A New Shot for Tennis Elbow

You don't have to play tennis to have a common elbow problem called "tennis elbow." This painful condition involves the outside "bump" or epicondyle of the elbow. It is typically caused by injury (strain) or repetitive stresses to the tendons that attach to the epicondyle.

Tennis elbow has long been treated as a form of tendonitis with inflammation as the problem. Treatments have included ice massage, steroid injections, splinting, and medication.

Researchers studying the muscle and tendon tissue have learned that chronic tennis elbow isn't a problem of inflammation. Instead, there's damage to the cells that form the tendons, a condition called tendonosis. The problem is compounded by a loss of blood supply to the damaged tendon.

The doctors in this study injected blood into the painful area of the elbows of 28 adults. The patients donated their own blood for this treatment. Eighty percent of the patients got complete relief of pain after one injection. A smaller number of patients needed two or even three injections.

It took about three weeks for the first injection to take effect. This matches the time needed for a healing process to take place. Repeated injections worked faster (one to two weeks). The authors think this is because the first injection started the steps toward healing.

The doctors say they can't know for sure if the blood was what worked. It may be that the injection itself caused a small injury to the area that produced the healing. They think the blood is what made the difference because the patients had previously gotten steroid shots into the damaged tendons without getting relief.

References: Scott G. Edwards, MD, and James H. Calandruccio, MD. Autologous Blood Injections for Refractory Lateral Epicondylitis. In The Journal of Hand Surgery. March 2003. Vol. 28A. No. 2. Pp. 272-278.