Senior woman with a tennis racket

By Dr John Barnett

Like most doctors, I encourage all of my patients to exercise regularly. There is nothing that will end a good exercise habit faster than having to stop due to injury or pain. Lateral Epicondylitis, more commonly known as Tennis Elbow, is one of the most common injuries for today’s athletes and “weekend warriors”. Tennis elbow is caused by repeated twisting of the wrist or frequent rotation of the forearm.  It causes hand or arm weakness, elbow and arm pain, and in some cases damage to the tendons that connect to the humerus (the bone of the upper arm).

Western medical treatment of tennis elbow usually involves rest, pain relieving and anti-inflammatory medications, heat, and sometimes physical therapy.  Often these are effective in relieving pain but do very little to prevent the condition from recurring.  Also these methods work best when you limit or stop the activity that was causing the inflammation.

The research on Acupuncture getting rid of both acute and chronic tennis elbow is very impressive.  When Mayo Clinic did a study on Chinese Acupuncture for the treatment of Tennis Elbow the doctor who conducted the study, Peter T. Dorsher, MD, was so impressed with the results that acupuncture is now his first choice of treatment for Lateral Epicondylitis.  While this study was small, only 22 patients, these were patients who had very stubborn cases of tennis elbow.   Nearly every patient in the study had previously attempted to cure their tennis elbow through conventional means, with some patients trying multiple therapies without success. Of the 22 subjects in the study, 14 had undergone “extensive hand therapy interventions”; 17 had used an elbow brace or splint; seven received corticosteroid injections for pain relief; and one patient had elbow surgery, all without achieving the desired effect.  Some of the study participants had been suffering with elbow pain for over 2 years!  When the participants were surveyed 8 months after treatment 80% had complete relief of their symptoms, and had returned to full, normal activities.   The participants received between 2-10 acupuncture treatments done 2 times per week.

Other studies published in the Oxford journal of Rheumatology had similar results.  One of these randomized, controlled studies done in 2002 found a 50% pain reduction after only 2 weeks of acupuncture therapy.

So not only is Acupuncture very effective in relieving the symptoms of tennis elbow, but it has an exceptionally low risk of side effects unlike cortisone injections and anti-inflammatory medication which commonly have side effects. In fact, many people that seek acupuncture treatment for tennis elbow often experience other benefits such as better sleep, reduced stress levels and improved overall wellness.

So get back in the Game! If you have tennis elbow you should consider acupuncture as your first option. You have nothing to lose, and with the proven benefits of Traditional Chinese Medicine you could reduce your symptoms of pain as well as improve the quality of your life.