Dr. Gold's Orthopedic Surgery Blog

Surgeon and Author, Dr. Stuart Gold,
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About Dr. Stuart Gold, MD


Elbow Surgery for Tennis Elbow

May 25th, 2011

I see many athletic patients. Many of them are tennis fanatics. Unfortunately, over time, some patients require elbow surgery due to “tennis elbow”. To help you better understand this details of surgery for tennis elbow, please continue reading this post.

Tennis elbow, or lateral epicondylitis, is the term used to describe a painful inflammation affecting the tendons joining the elbow to the muscles in the forearm. Both the muscles and the tendons can be damaged through repetitive motions.

Elbow Surgery Due To Tennis

Those who play racquet sports, such as tennis, may be at risk for the condition, but any repetitive motion that places stress on the elbow can cause it. Therefore, active gardeners or hobbyists who work with hand tools may also develop the condition.

Prior to surgery, most patients will be advised to rest the affected arm. They may need to give up sports or restrict work activities that affect the elbow. Over-the-counter medications may be used to reduce swelling and pain. The physician may also recommend physical therapy or the use of a brace while the arm heals. In some cases, the doctor may opt for cortisone injections to bring relief. It may be advisable for those who play racquet sports to consult a professional to make sure equipment is properly sized, since a handgrip that fits poorly can exacerbate or cause strain.

Normally, conservative methods will be employed for six to twelve months before surgery is recommended. Fewer than five percent of all patients undergo elbow surgery for tennis elbow. Although arthroscopic surgery is sometimes an option, most elbow surgery for tennis elbow is open surgery. Both types can often be performed on an outpatient basis or with only one night in the hospital.

The exact nature of the surgery will depend on the extent of damage, the patient’s overall health and the preferences of both the patient and surgeon. Most often, the operation is performed to release the tendon, remove diseased or damaged tissue and reattach healthy muscle tissue to the bone. If it is possible to reattach the tendon without stretching it too tightly, the tendon will also be reattached.

After surgery, the arm is normally splinted to keep it immobile for the first week or so. When the sutures are removed, the splint is normally discontinued. Depending on the patient’s condition, the doctor may recommend stretching exercises to increase flexibility. Strength-building exercises are normally begun about eight weeks after the surgery. A return to strenuous activities, such as sports or jobs requiring heavy lifting, may be delayed for as long as six months.

As is true with any surgery, an operation for tennis elbow carries certain risks. Infection and damage to blood vessels or nerves are among the risks. It is also common for the patient to experience a slight loss of strength in the affected arm. It may also become less flexible, and some patients are unable to fully extend their arms after surgery missing one to five degrees of motion. The best results are found in patients who follow instructions for post-operative therapy or exercises.

I hope that helps you learn more about surgery for tennis elbow.

Until next time,

Stuart

About the Author: Dr. Stuart Gold, M.D. is a board certified orthopedic surgeon who has 23 years experience specializing in sport injuries, joint replacement, arthritis and limb salvage. As the Director of the Orthopedic Institute, Dr. Gold recently published The Patient's Guide To Orthopedic Surgery to help patients better understand the challenges, risks and opportunities of orthopedic care.

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