Surgery for Tennis Elbow

Few Patients Need Surgery for Tennis Elbow

Nurse helping patient
Tetra Images - Vstock/Brand X Pictures/Getty Images

Only a small percentage of patients diagnosed with tennis elbow will ultimately require surgical treatment. Patients may consider surgery if more conservative treatments are not effective after a period of six to 12 months. All other possible causes of pain in this region should be considered prior to undergoing surgery for tennis elbow.

Tennis Elbow Surgery

There are many surgical procedures that have been described for the treatment of tennis elbow.

The common aspect of surgery is to perform two tasks. First, the removal of damaged tissue, and second, the stimulation of the healing response in the affected area. The good news is that these procedures are usually done as outpatient surgery, so you won't have an overnight hospital stay.

Open Surgery for Tennis Elbow

Open surgery is the most common surgical approach for tennis elbow. An incision is made over the outside of the joint. The location of the tendon damage is identified, and this portion of the tendon is removed. The underlying bone is exposed, and blood flow to this region is stimulated. Some surgeons will repair the remaining tendon by using sutures anchored into the bone. The incision is then closed, and the patient's arm placed in a splint.

Arthroscopic Surgery for Tennis Elbow

Arthroscopic surgery has also become a treatment option for tennis elbow. Arthroscopic procedures allow your surgeon to look within the elbow joint to ensure there is no other source for the pain, and also allows for removal of damaged tendon without detachment of the tendon from the bone.

While arthroscopic surgery for tennis elbow is relatively new, early results have been encouraging with high rates of success.

Risks of Tennis Elbow Surgery

Any time you make a surgical incision, there is a risk of infection. It can also result in damage to nerves and blood vessels. You might feel a loss of strength and flexibility.

After Tennis Elbow Surgery

After tennis elbow surgery, a sterile bandage and splint is placed on your elbow. You will remain in a splint for about a week to allow the incision to heal. After that point, the splint and sutures are removed and you can begin gently moving the wrist and elbow.

You will begin light exercises within several weeks of surgery and you can begin strengthening after about six weeks. If you want to return to athletic activities you can usually begin to do so about 12 weeks after surgery. This will vary from patient to patient, so your doctor will recommend what is appropriate in your case.

Results of Tennis Elbow Surgery

Most patients will never need surgery for tennis elbow. Of the small percentage of patients who eventually need surgery, between 80% and 90% find improvement with surgical treatment. Those individuals who still have persistent pain after surgery for tennis elbow should further investigate other potential causes of elbow pain to determine if there could be another source of symptoms.

You may find a loss of strength after the surgery as that is not uncommon.

Sources:

Jobe, FW; Ciccotti, MG. ""Lateral and Medial Epicondylitis of the Elbow" J. Am. Acad. Ortho. Surg., Jan 1994; 2: 1 - 8.

Tennis Elbow (Lateral Epicondylitis), OrthoInfo, American Academy of Orthopaedic Surgeons, July, 2015.

Continue Reading