Tennis Elbow: Doing nothing is better than drugs

Tennis elbow, or lateral humeral epicondylitis, is a minor, if painful, problem that’s usually caused by the overuse of a joint.  It eventually clears up on its own, although this can take up to a year.

Instead, doctors will probably give a corticosteroid injection, and it is a ‘quick fix’, as previous research has endorsed.  In fact, a sufferer given an injection is immediately better off – he has less pain and better movement – than the patient who just has physiotherapy or, indeed, the one who decides to sit it out.

But a new study has discovered that the good effects of the injection wear off very quickly – and, in fact, slow recovery.

Researchers tested the three approaches – injection, physiotherapy and ‘wait and see’ – on a group of 198 tennis elbow sufferers.

Physiotherapy was better than ‘wait and see’ in the first six weeks, but the speed of recovery was no quicker.  Those who had the injection were worse off in the medium- to long-term compared even with those in the ‘wait and see’ group because it slowed full recovery.  In other words, the injection was worse than doing nothing.

(Source:  British Medical Journal, 2006; 333: 939-41).

E-news broadcast 9 November 2006 No.308 [Subscribe]