Shocking Results about Shock Wave Therapy for Tennis Elbow

In Europe, doctors often use shock wave treatment for tennis elbow and other joint problems. However, there is little evidence to show how well it works. These authors did a trial to rate the success of shock waves in treating tennis elbow.

About 270 patients were divided into two groups. The treatment group got local anesthesia to numb the elbow, followed by 2000 pulses of low-energy shock waves. The placebo group got local anesthesia followed by fake shock wave treatment.

Both groups were checked at six weeks, 12 weeks, and one year. After 12 weeks, about one fourth of the patients in the treatment group were better without any other therapy. However, a quarter of the patients in the placebo group had also been successfully "treated," suggesting that shock wave therapy isn't all it's cracked up to be.

One year later, about two-thirds of the patients in both groups had improved. Time and conservative treatments seemed to work in the majority of cases.

The authors conclude that shock wave therapy as it was done in this study is not a useful treatment for tennis elbow. They suggest that doctors stop using it until further trials show if it has benefits when it is used in different ways.

References: M. Haake, MD, et al. Extracorporeal Shock Wave Therapy in the Treatment of Lateral Epicondylitis. In The Journal of Bone and Joint Surgery. November 2002. Vol. 84-A. No. 11. Pp. 1982-1991.