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Treatments - Tennis elbow

Tennis elbow will usually get better without treatment.

Tennis elbow usually lasts between 6 months and 2 years. Most people make a full recovery within a year.

The most important thing is to rest your arm and stop doing the activity that caused the problem.

There are also simple treatments to help with the pain. Holding a cold compress against your elbow for a few minutes several times a day can help. You can use a bag of frozen peas wrapped in a towel.

Avoiding or changing activities

If you have tennis elbow, you should stop doing activities that strain those muscles and tendons.

If you use your arms at work for manual tasks, you may need to avoid these activities until the pain improves.

You may be able to change the way you do these types of movements so they do not strain your arm.

Talk to your employer about avoiding activities that could make your pain worse.

Painkillers and non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs)

Taking painkillers (paracetamol) may help to ease mild pain caused by tennis elbow. NSAIDs (ibuprofen) may help to ease inflammation.

NSAIDs are available as tablets. You can also get them as creams or gels (topical NSAIDs). You put creams and gels to the area of the body where you feel the pain.

Topical NSAIDs are often recommended for musculoskeletal conditions. They can reduce inflammation and pain without causing side effects.

Some NSAIDs are only available with a prescription.

Physiotherapy for tennis elbow

Your GP may suggest that you see a physiotherapist if your elbow is causing ongoing pain. Physiotherapists use different methods to restore movement to injured areas of the body.

The physiotherapist may use massage and manipulation to relieve pain and stiffness. These exercises also encourage blood flow to your arm. They can also show you exercises you can do to help your arm.

They may also recommend the use of a brace, strapping, support bandage or splint in the short term.

Steroid injections for tennis elbow

Steroids are medicines that contain synthetic versions of the hormone cortisol. They are sometimes used to treat tennis elbow.

Some people with tennis elbow may have steroid injections when other treatments have not worked.

You will get an injection into the painful area around the elbow. You may also get a local anaesthetic to numb the area.

Steroid injections are only likely to give short-term relief. Their long-term effectiveness is poor. If they help, you may have up to 3 injections in the same area. There may be a 3 to 6 month gap between injections.

Shockwave therapy for tennis elbow

Shockwave therapy is a non-invasive treatment. High-energy shockwaves pass through the skin to help relieve pain and promote movement.

The number of sessions you need depends on how severe your pain is. You may have a local anaesthetic to reduce discomfort during the procedure.

Shockwave therapy is safe. But it can cause side effects. These include bruising and reddening of the skin in the area.

Shockwave therapy can help improve the pain of tennis elbow for some people. But it may not work in all cases. It needs further research.

PRP injections for tennis elbow

Platelet rich plasma (PRP) is a treatment that may be offered in hospital to treat tennis elbow.

PRP is blood plasma that contains concentrated platelets. Your body uses these to repair damaged tissue. Injections of PRP can speed up the healing process in some people. Their long-term effectiveness is not yet known.

The surgeon will take a blood sample from you and put it in a machine. This separates the healing platelets. They can then be injected into the affected joints.

Surgery for tennis elbow

You may need surgery when tennis elbow is causing severe and persistent pain. The damaged part of the tendon will be removed to relieve the painful symptoms.

Content supplied by the NHS and adapted for Ireland by the HSE

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This project has received funding from the Government of Ireland’s Sláintecare Integration Fund 2019 under Grant Agreement Number 123.

Page last reviewed: 21 March 2021
Next review due: 21 March 2024