The best way to treat tennis elbow (epicondylitis) is still a mystery. Studies have shown that acupuncture, cortisone injections, and splints or other aids don't work for everyone all the time. There's still debate whether or not a special type of shock wave treatment has any effect on tennis elbow. The treatment is called extracorporeal shock wave treatment (ESWT).
ESWT is a form of energy used to enhance healing of soft tissues. It's applied to the painful or damaged area from outside the body. The body's natural healing process begins by bringing more blood to the area after ESWT.
In this study, researchers put 78 tennis players with lateral epicondylitis in one of two groups. The first group got ESWT to the painful or tender area. Three treatment sessions were given. Each session lasted 30 minutes. The patients waited one week between sessions.
The second (placebo) group thought they were getting ESWT. They were set up exactly as the first group. However, in this group, the shock waves were reflected away from the patient. All patients in both groups were asked to stop playing tennis until seven days after the last treatment.
The authors report good results with ESWT. Three months after the treatment, the ESWT group had much better pain relief. The treatment group could do more physical tasks, such as opening jars, carrying heavy objects, or picking up a dime.
Sixty-five percent of the active treatment group went back to playing tennis. This compares to 35 percent in the placebo group. The authors conclude that there was some improvement in the placebo group, but the treatment group clearly did better. Thus, the authors support the use of ESWT for lateral epicondylitis.