Treatment for tennis elbow aims to reduce elbow pain and restore normal movement and function. Self-care measures and long term strengthening are key to the treatment of tennis elbow. Treatment may include physiotherapy and medication. Surgery is only an option in the rare case when pain does not subside with continued self-care, strengthening exercises, physiotherapy and medication.
Tennis elbow takes time to heal. You may be able to help ease pain by:
- Avoiding the activity that causes the symptoms for at least 2 weeks.
- Applying an ice pack, like a packet of frozen peas wrapped in a towel, to the sore area of your elbow for 10 minutes, 2 to 3 times a day.
- Using a special brace that wraps around the upper part of your forearm. Alternatively, wearing a wrist splint may ease pain by helping to rest the muscles that pull on your elbow. Such splints or brace can often be bought over the counter from a pharmacy.
Strengthening the wrist and shoulder muscles is extremely important for the long term care of tennis elbow. A physiotherapist can show you progressive exercises to strengthen the muscles of your forearm and the shoulder. The physiotherapist will explore how the pain influences your life and devise an individual plan with you. They will help you to work out how to move and complete your required activities in different ways, should the pain persist.
Anti-inflammatory medications, such as ibuprofen may be helpful for a few days. Some anti-inflammatories are available as a cream or gel that can be rubbed directly over the painful area. If you cannot take anti-inflammatory pain medication, other pain medication such as paracetamol may be helpful.
Corticosteroids may be injected around the area where the tendon attaches to the bone to help decrease the swelling and pain. Steroid injections may help ease pain in the short term but pain tends to come back in many people. You would need to rest the arm for a few days after such injection, and slowly return to the progressive strengthening exercise and usual activity.
Treatment for severe symptoms
Surgery is only considered in very rare cases when severe pain continues after 6 to 12 months of rest and treatment. Your GP can give you more information about this option.