Taking A Swing At Elbow Pain

Tennis elbow is a chronic, painful condition involving the tendons in the arm and elbow. Thanks to overuse of the arm, the tendon that connects to the bony part of the elbow becomes inflamed. The condition is common among athletes, like tennis players, hence the name. However, anyone who performs activities that require repetitive arm use can get tennis elbow. Tennis elbow, also known as lateral epicondylitis, affects up to 3% of adults annually. If left unchecked, the tendon degenerates further and can eventually tear. At this stage, an orthopedic surgeon may suggest elbow arthroscopy to repair the damage.


Symptoms of tennis elbow

Pain on the outer part of the elbow is the main symptom of tennis elbow. People with tennis elbow can also experience sharp pain when twisting the arm as the tendon is pinched. The condition often happens to the patient’s dominant arm but can affect both. Other symptoms include stiffness, swelling, and reduced forearm and grip strength. Most people with tennis elbow have periodic pain and ignore the initial symptoms. Over time, however, the pain can become much more intense.

When conservative options fail

A doctor can diagnose tennis elbow with a series of tests and x-rays. Conservative treatment is the next step if the patient has moderate discomfort and there is no apparent damage to the tendon. Rest, pain medication, and temperature therapy can help. Using a brace or other compression devices can stabilize the elbow and help reduce inflammation. Patients can also benefit from physical therapy (PT), where exercises to strengthen and support the elbow are taught. Further treatment options include platelet-rich plasma (PRP) injections and steroid injections. These techniques often provide long-term relief for the patient, but in some cases, the pain persists.

Time for elbow arthroscopy?

If the patient still feels pain after 6 or more months of non-surgical treatment, more advanced interventions may be needed. This scenario is more common if the patient has a torn or degenerated tendon. If conservative options fail, an orthopedic surgeon or specialist will typically suggest elbow arthroscopy. This minimally invasive surgery (MIS) can correct the issue, giving the patient long-term relief. Elbow arthroscopy uses a specialized camera at the end of a scope to view the damaged elbow. The tool projects a magnified image of the tendon on a screen, allowing the surgeon to operate meticulously.

Expectations during surgery

The arthroscopy procedure is minimally invasive and takes 30-60 minutes. The surgeon may use local or general anesthesia. To perform elbow arthroscopy, the surgeon makes an incision the size of a buttonhole to insert the arthroscope. Next, 3-4 other incisions are made around the elbow to insert the remaining surgical tools. The surgeon will then perform a debridement, which is the smoothing of the bone and removal of damaged cartilage. If necessary, the surgeon can cut away diseased tendons. Finally, the incisions are closed with sutures, and the elbow is bandaged.

Arthroscopy benefits

Elbow arthroscopy is a minimally invasive process with several benefits for the patient. The surgery is outpatient and only requires small incisions, which means less pain and fewer scars. There’s also a reduced chance of complications and higher success rates. With MIS, the patient can go home the same day. Moreover, this type of elbow surgery has a secondary function. The surgeon can use tennis elbow surgery to diagnose problems with the ulnar collateral ligament (UCL) or locate bone spurs, preventing further damage at a later stage.

Advantage arthroscopy

Individuals who perform repetitive actions, like serving or forehands during tennis, can develop tennis elbow. People who work manual jobs are also at risk of developing the condition. Closely monitor any form of overuse for this injury. Should the signs occur, take action and see a doctor immediately. While non-conservative options are useful, tennis elbow surgery may be the answer for long-term relief.

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