If I had surgery for my chronic tennis elbow, what exactly would they do? I've tried everything else without success. I don't really know what else to do.
Lateral epicondylitis, commonly known as tennis elbow, is not limited to tennis players. The backhand swing in tennis can strain the muscles and tendons of the elbow in a way that leads to tennis elbow. But many other types of repetitive activities can also lead to tennis elbow: painting with a brush or roller, running a chain saw, and using many types of hand tools. Any activities that repeatedly stress the same forearm muscles can cause symptoms of tennis elbow.
Tennis elbow often does not involve inflammation. Rather, the problem is within the cells of the tendon. Doctors call this condition tendinosis. In tendinosis, wear and tear is thought to lead to tissue degeneration. A degenerated tendon usually has an abnormal arrangement of collagen fibers.
Instead of inflammatory cells, the body produces a type of cells called fibroblasts. When this happens, the collagen loses its strength. It becomes fragile and can break or be easily injured. Each time the collagen breaks down, the body responds by forming scar tissue in the tendon. Eventually, the tendon becomes thickened from extra scar tissue.
Every effort is made with nonsurgical treatment to keep the collagen from breaking down further. The goal is to help the tendon heal. But when this doesn't happen, surgery may be necessary. When problems are caused by tendinosis, surgeons may choose to take out (debride) only the affected tissues within the tendon. In these cases, the surgeon cleans up the tendon, removing only the damaged tissue.
A commonly used surgery for tennis elbow is called a lateral epicondyle release. This surgery takes tension off the extensor tendon. The surgeon begins by making an incision along the arm over the lateral epicondyle. Soft tissues are gently moved aside so the surgeon can see the point where the extensor tendon attaches on the lateral epicondyle.
The extensor tendon is then cut where it connects to the lateral epicondyle. The surgeon splits the tendon and takes out any extra scar tissue. Any bone spurs found on the lateral epicondyle are removed. (Bone spurs are pointed bumps that can grow on the surface of the bones.) Some surgeons suture the loose end of the tendon to the nearby fascia tissue. (Fascia tissue covers the muscles and organs throughout your body.) The skin is then stitched together.
Studies show that this type of surgical approach is safe and effective for chronic tennis elbow that just does not respond to any other treatment. There will be some postoperative rehab required to regain motion, strength and function. You can expect to get good to excellent return of grip strength and return to daily activities. About 20 per cent of athletes or sports participants are unable to return to full play in their sport of choice.
Samuel A. Taylor, MD, and Jo A. Hannafin, MD, PhD. Evaluation and Management of Elbow Tendinopathy. In Sports Health. September/October 2012. Vol. 4. No. 5. Pp. 384-393.
*Disclaimer:* The information contained herein is compiled from a variety of sources. It may not be complete or timely. It does not cover all diseases, physical conditions, ailments or treatments. The information should NOT be used in place of visit with your healthcare provider, nor should you disregard the advice of your health care provider because of any information you read in this topic.