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World J Orthop. Jul 18, 2013; 4(3): 103-106
Published online Jul 18, 2013. doi: 10.5312/wjo.v4.i3.103
Mechanical solution for a mechanical problem: Tennis elbow
Bruce Rothschild
Bruce Rothschild, Department of Medicine, Northeast Ohio Medical University, Rootstown, OH 44272, United States
Bruce Rothschild, Biodiversity Institute, University of Kansas, Lawrence, KS 66045, United States
Author contributions: Rothschild B solely contributed to this paper.
Correspondence to: Bruce Rothschild, Professor, Department of Medicine, Northeast Ohio Medical University, 4209 State Route 44, Rootstown, OH 44272, United States. bmr@ku.edu
Telephone: +1-785-6151523 Fax: +1-785-5942691
Received: February 17, 2013
Revised: March 19, 2013
Accepted: April 10, 2013
Published online: July 18, 2013

Lateral epicondylitis is a relatively common clinical problem, easily recognized on palpation of the lateral protuberance on the elbow. Despite the “itis” suffix, it is not an inflammatory process. Therapeutic approaches with topical non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs, corticosteroids and anesthetics have limited benefit, as would be expected if inflammation is not involved. Other approaches have included provision of healing cytokines from blood products or stem cells, based on the recognition that this repetitive effort-derived disorder represents injury. Noting calcification/ossification of tendon attachments to the lateral epicondyle (enthesitis), dry needling, radiofrequency, shock wave treatments and surgical approaches have also been pursued. Physiologic approaches, including manipulation, therapeutic ultrasound, phonophoresis, iontophoresis, acupuncture and exposure of the area to low level laser light, has also had limited success. This contrasts with the benefit of a simple mechanical intervention, reducing the stress on the attachment area. This is based on displacement of the stress by use of a thin (3/4-1 inch) band applied just distal to the epicondyle. Thin bands are required, as thick bands (e.g., 2-3 inch wide) simply reduce muscle strength, without significantly reducing stress. This approach appears to be associated with a failure rate less than 1%, assuming the afflicted individual modifies the activity that repeatedly stresses the epicondylar attachments.

Keywords: Epicondylitis, Tennis elbow, Adaptive equipment, Mechanical overload, Elbow, Inflammation

Core tip: Lateral epicondylitis is a mechanical problem with a mechanical solution. While there have been many approaches, some quite exotic, to this phenomenon, there is a very effective non-invasive treatment: application of a 3/4-1 inch forearm band just below the elbow, of course associated with modification of the activity that is stressing the epicondylar attachments.