I'm on a college tennis team that is ranked among the top 10 in the United States. Several of our team members are out with tennis elbow and I may be next. I'm looking for the fastest and best way to recover. What do you recommend?
Tennis elbow, also known as lateral elbow tendinopathy can be very hard to predict. Physical therapy often helps reduce painful symptoms, improve motion, and restore function. But after months of therapy, some patients may still need surgery. On the other hand, some people heal up nicely on their own and don't need rehab or surgery.
Athletes are especially interested in knowing if there is some way to predict in advance who needs what? In a recent study, orthopedic surgeons and radiologists teamed up to explore the usefulness of ultrasound studies in tennis elbow.
They were looking for sonographic predictors of prognosis for tennis elbow. They wanted to know if it's age, sex, or even which elbow was injured that might predict who would get better and who wouldn't. They hoped to find specific factors that are linked with successful conservative treatment of tennis elbow.
What they found was that the larger tears (bigger than four millimeters) were less likely to heal without some outside help. Early on, it may be possible to use some of the newer treatment methods such as blood injection, platelet-rich plasma, or cell therapy to stimulate tendon repair. There wasn't a significant link to the rest of the factors (age, sex, right or left elbow).
The results of this study confirmed the benefit of ultrasound as an imaging tool for the diagnosis and assessment of tennis elbow. Ultrasound assessment early in the diagnostic process may help triage (sort) patients into the best treatment approach based on severity of findings, not severity of pain. Failed tendon healing may be avoided with this type of approach.
Andrew W. Clarke, MD, et al. Lateral Elbow Tendinopathy. Correlation of Ultrasound Findings with Pain and Functional Disability. In The American Journal of Sports Medicine. June 2010. Vol. 38. No. 6. Pp. 1209-1214.
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