Tennis Elbow Treatment Options: Surgery vs. Non-Surgical Approaches

Tennis elbow, also known as Lateral epicondylitis, is not limited to tennis players. This condition can be caused by repetitive or excessive use of the forearm muscles. As a result, tiny tears or inflammation in the tendons connecting the forearm muscles on the outer part of the elbow may occur, leading to severe pain and tenderness.

Studies show that tennis elbow can affect anyone but is commonly diagnosed between 30 and 50. The onset of symptoms typically involves a mild discomfort or sensation of burning on the outer surface of your elbow. 

These symptoms tend to worsen gradually over time and can lead to a loss of strength in your grip. However, timely and individualized treatment can alleviate the pain and other symptoms. Scroll down to explore the surgery and non-surgical tennis elbow treatment approaches. 

Non-Surgical Approaches

After diagnosing the condition, the healthcare professional will initially recommend non-surgical treatment options to treat the symptoms of tennis elbow. They may include the combination of the following.

  • Rest and Ice Therapy

Limiting the use of the affected arm and avoiding strenuous activities worsening the symptoms is the first step in treating tennis elbow. Sometimes, a short rest period will ease the pain and inflammation while promoting further healing. 

Apply ice or cold packs for 15 minutes at a time to reduce swelling and prevent additional pain in the elbow. You can reapply the pack again after an hour or two. Repeat the cycle as much as possible for long-lasting pain relief. 

  • Physical Therapy

Physical therapy helps you regain strength, flexibility, and a complete range of motion by curing injured tendons and muscles. The professional therapist examines how you move or use your arm and wrist and suggests modifications to prevent further injury or strain on your elbow. They will create a plan with strengthening and stretching exercises for the forearm to restore mobility. 

  • Medications

Your physician might prescribe over-the-counter NSAIDs such as ibuprofen to reduce pain and relieve inflammation, effectively reducing the physical distress due to tennis elbow. 

You must make sure to follow the directions for the medications. Missing doses or overdose of these medications can cause severe consequences. If the recommended treatment option doesn’t decrease pain, consult your doctor. 

  • Injections

Non-surgical treatments also involve various injections and regenerative medicines that are discussed in detail below:

  • Steroid Injections

The physician might suggest a cortisone injection shot in the affected area of your elbow to decrease the inflammation. Steroid injections are highly effective in relieving the pain caused by the tennis elbow. However, you may feel the pain again after resuming the complicated activities without altering your wrist and arm movement.

  • Platelet-Rich Plasma (PRP)

As a part of regenerative medicine, PRP utilizes the patient’s platelets to heal the injured tissue. The platelets are collected and concentrated before reinjection into the affected area. 

  • Braces and Supports

Wearing braces and supports is an effective non-surgical treatment for tennis elbow that will support the affected tendons and muscles. These assistive devices are specially designed for the tennis elbow. You have to wear them consistently, as per the advice of your physician, for several weeks to stimulate prompt and proper healing. 

Surgical Approaches

Research shows that around 80-90% of tennis elbow pain can be treated successfully without surgery. Surgery for tennis elbow is rarely needed and is only considered when the condition is persistently impacting the quality of your life.

Your physician may consider surgical treatment for tennis elbow if the conservative approaches fail to improve the symptoms within 6-12 months. The surgeon will decide the type of surgery depending on the severity of the condition and your specific circumstances. 

  • Open surgery

The surgeon will cut the region on the elbow’s lateral side to remove the damaged tendon and reattach the healthy parts of the bone. Direct access to the tendon may extend the recovery process a little longer with excess discomfort. However, the success rate of open surgery is high. 

  • Arthroscopic surgery

A few small incisions are made in the skin over the elbow. A tiny instrument and a small camera are inserted to remove the injured tendon. Performing this surgery decreases the risk of infections and causes less blood loss and pain while recovering.

  • Recovery Time

Patience is the key when recovering from tennis elbow surgery. After the surgery, you are instructed to follow certain physical therapy techniques to enhance your joint’s range of motion and strength. Also, you may have to wear the splint or sling around the elbow for a week to immobilize your arm and avoid injuries. 

The surgeon will prescribe pain relievers to prevent any pain or discomfort. After removing the splint, you can steadily stretch your elbows to increase your flexibility and mobility around the elbow. You can return to your daily life in 2-6 weeks, depending on the severity of the condition.

Factors to Consider While Considering Treatment Options

  • The Severity of the Condition

Learning about the severity of the tennis elbow will help you make informed management decisions and choose the best treatment option. The approach will be much better in such conditions, lowering the chance of developing a similar disease.

  • Age and Overall Health of the Patient

As we age, our body alters how the medications we consume are absorbed and used. In addition, changes in your overall health also influence the absorption rate and how long the medicine stays in your body. 

  • Occupation and Level of Physical Activity

The patient’s occupation and level of physical activities are usually considered when choosing the tennis elbow treatment option. When the individual is involved in a job requiring fewer arm and wrist movements, they prescribe rest and medications. However, the condition will be severe among manual labourers and sports individuals that might require surgery at certain times.


The treatment for tennis elbow usually involves taking necessary steps to relieve pain and relieve the injury in the affected tendon. The approach can be a predominant combination of physical therapy, exercise, and medication. 

You will likely recommend surgical options if the symptoms don’t improve with these self-care and conventional methods. It will address the pain and restore the optimal functionality of your elbow altogether.

When experiencing sharp pain, a burning feeling in your elbow, or sudden weakness in gripping objects, it is important to consult an orthopedic specialist for accurate and appropriate intervention. In a nutshell, Early diagnosis followed by an effective treatment plan aids in getting back on your best form again.

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