Does Shockwave Therapy Help With Tennis Elbow?

by Jessica Ferdowsian | Oct 27, 2023 | Treatments

Tennis elbow, medically known as lateral epicondylitis, is a condition where the outer part of the elbow becomes painful and tender. It’s a form of tendinopathy that involves the tendons of the muscles of the forearm that attach to the lateral epicondyle, the bony bump on the outer part of the elbow. This injury affects people of all ages and backgrounds, and it’s caused by repetitive use of the muscles and tendons that govern the outer part of the elbow. Playing tennis is a common way of developing tennis elbow, hence the name, though direct trauma to the elbow or improper technique can also cause this condition.

Various treatments for tennis elbow are available, including extracorporeal shockwave therapy (ESWT), which is a scientifically backed treatment that involves the use of sound waves. However, it’s advised that those seeking shockwave therapy for treating tennis elbow do their research, as there exist several forms of shockwave therapy. We’ve done just that. Continue reading to learn about shockwave therapy and how it can help your tennis elbow injury.

Tennis Elbow Goes Away on Its Own… Slowly

Tennis elbow will eventually go away if left untreated. It’s not a life-threatening injury, nor is it one that will interfere with day-to-day tasks. All it takes is easing off the elbow by discontinuing the activity that caused the injury in the first place. While most people can deal with the discomfort until it goes away, not many can wait that long to use their elbow at full capacity again.

An untreated tennis elbow injury can take between six months to two years to heal, though, according to the United Kingdom’ National Health Service, 90% of patients recover within the year. That’s a long time to wait if you play sports or require the use of your elbow for work. In those cases, a tennis elbow injury can interfere with your daily life, so it should be treated as soon as possible.

Tennis Elbow Treatments

Treatments for tennis elbow range in severity, with some requiring very little time and effort and others requiring physical therapy and even surgery. Your best course of action should be a decision made between you and your doctor, but it’s worth briefly reviewing the types of treatments available before making a decision.

  • Rest and Activity Modification: Avoiding activities that exacerbate the pain is crucial.
  • Pain Relievers: Over-the-counter pain medications, such as ibuprofen or naproxen, can help reduce pain and inflammation.
  • Physical Therapy: Specific exercises can help strengthen the forearm muscles and reduce stress on the tendons.
  • Bracing: Wearing a counterforce brace or strap around the forearm can help distribute force more evenly and take the strain off the tendons.
  • Ice: Applying ice to the affected area can help reduce inflammation and pain.
  • Steroid Injections: Corticosteroid injections can provide temporary relief from pain, but they are not always recommended due to potential side effects.
  • Surgery: If conservative treatments don’t work, surgical intervention may be considered. The procedure typically involves removing damaged tissue and reattaching healthy tendons to the bone.

Shockwave Therapy and Tennis Elbow

Radial Shockwave Therapy (RSWT) and Focused Shockwave Therapy (FSWT) are both forms of extracorporeal shockwave therapy used in the treatment of various musculoskeletal conditions. However, they differ in their mechanisms of action, depth of penetration, and indications. Here’s a breakdown of the differences:

Mechanism of Generation:

Radial Shockwave Therapy (RSWT): RSWT produces shockwaves using a pneumatically accelerated projectile that strikes a metal applicator placed on the skin. The shockwaves then radiate outwards in a radial manner from the applicator.

Focused Shockwave Therapy (FSWT): FSWT produces shockwaves using either electromagnetic, piezoelectric, or electrohydraulic methods. These shockwaves are focused on a specific point deep within the tissue.

Depth of Penetration:

RSWT: The shockwaves produced by RSWT are more superficial and spread out in a radial pattern. They tend to lose their intensity quickly as they penetrate deeper into the tissues.

FSWT: The shockwaves in FSWT are more focused and can penetrate deeper into the tissues, targeting specific areas.
Indications:

RSWT: Typically used for superficial musculoskeletal conditions such as plantar fasciitis, Achilles tendinopathy, and tennis elbow.

FSWT: More suitable for deeper musculoskeletal conditions or where a more targeted treatment is required, such as non-union fractures or calcific shoulder tendinopathy.

Pain and Discomfort:

RSWT: Generally considered less painful than FSWT, but this can vary depending on the individual and the condition being treated.

FSWT: This can be more painful due to the focused nature of the shockwaves, sometimes requiring local anesthesia.

Treatment Duration:

RSWT: Typically, RSWT sessions are shorter in duration compared to FSWT.

FSWT: Due to its focused nature, FSWT sessions might take longer, and fewer shockwaves are usually applied compared to RSWT.

Device Design:

RSWT: Devices are usually more compact and portable.

FSWT: Devices tend to be larger due to the more complex mechanism of shockwave generation.

Both RSWT and FSWT have their own advantages and are chosen based on the specific condition, depth of the target tissue, and the desired therapeutic outcome. It’s essential to consult with a healthcare professional to determine the most appropriate treatment option for a particular condition.

Is RSWT or FSWT Better for Tennis Elbow?

Studies have conclusively demonstrated that radial shockwave therapy is more effective than ultrasound therapy, laser therapy, and corticosteroid injections. But, more importantly, studies like this one from the Archives of Medical Science have proven that both radial and focused shockwave therapies are incredibly effective at treating tennis elbow.

However, if you have to decide between the two, radial shockwave therapy is recommended for several reasons. As stated above, RSWT is better able to treat tendinopathies like tennis elbow and other superficial-level injuries, such as plantar fasciitis, because the sound waves do not penetrate as deep. The main advantage is that radial shockwave therapy doesn’t take as long and doesn’t require anesthesia. Patients can be in and out in as little as 30-45 minutes and can drive themselves home.

Governor’s Park Chiropractic — Tennis Elbow Treatment in Denver

Tennis elbow can happen to anyone, whether playing tennis, throwing around a football, or hammering nails all day. Treatment isn’t required, as it can go away after about a year, but it is recommended. With radial shockwave therapy, a person experiencing tennis elbow can get back to their normal activities in just a few weeks.

Governor’s Park Chiropractic, a prominent chiropractic care clinic with several locations around the Denver metro, offers radial shockwave therapy for plantar fasciitis and tennis elbow. If you have developed a tennis elbow injury and can’t wait a year for it to disappear, our expert shockwave therapist can get you back on the court in no time. Call us at (303) 831-1122 to learn more about shockwave therapy, or book your appointment today.

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