Shock Wave Therapy for Tennis Elbow: Does It Work?

This is the first study to look at the use of extracorporeal shock wave therapy (ESWT) as the only treatment for lateral epicondylitis. Lateral epicondylitis is the technical name for tennis elbow when it involves the outside of the elbow. ESWT is a fairly new treatment for this problem.

Sixty patients with tennis elbow were divided into two groups. One group got ESWT. Pulses of low energy were applied to the painful areas once a week for three weeks for this group. The second group thought they were getting ESWT, but the treatment was a sham. This control group had an air buffer pad next to the elbow to prevent the ESWT from getting through. Patients were told that two different treatments were being compared. This was so patients didn't know which treatment they were getting. Results were measured by the amount of pain relief. Patients were followed for eight weeks after treatment.

The authors report no difference in results between the two groups. Night pain, activity pain, resting pain, and grip strength were all the same. It's possible that long-term results would show a difference. But more study is needed to show what happens months (instead of weeks) later.

References: Bryan Chung and J. Preston Wiley, MD. Effectiveness of Extracorporeal Shock Wave Therapy in the Treatment of Previously Untreated Lateral Epicondylitis. In The American Journal of Sports Medicine. October/November 2004. Vol. 32. No. 7. Pp. 1660-1667.