What is a Tennis Elbow Injury?

The commonly known musculoskeletal condition, tennis elbow (or lateral epicondylitis, to give it its medical name) does not only affect, as the name tends to suggest, tennis players. Actually, tennis elbow is caused, in most cases, by overuse of the muscles which are attached to the elbow. If strained, the muscles and tendons may be subject to small tears and inflammation can develop. It is a painful condition characterized with pain on the outside of the elbow.  

Tennis elbow can be caused by repeated strain, overuse, not always strenuous, or activities that put repeated stress on the elbow joint, for example DIY activities, using the mouse on a computer or even from simply playing the violin!

The condition is mostly prevalent in adults between the age of 40 – 60 and affects both men and women equally.

Most cases of tennis elbow are resolved with physiotherapy and other conventional methods and the symptoms for most people usually disappear within one year.  However, for a small percentage of people, after struggling with persistent pain and restricted movement of their arm, wrist and hand for years, the decision for surgery must be faced and should not be underestimated, because if left untreated, tennis elbow can cause years of chronic pain where the gripping power and lifting can be greatly reduced and become difficult.

Surgery Complications for Tennis Elbow Injuries

Surgery Complications & Risks for Tennis Elbow Injuries - ShoulderMD SeattleWhile surgery may be seen as a last resort for some, having your case assessed by a surgeon can help ease the decision making process. He or she outlines the risks involved and the pros and cons of opting for surgical intervention.  The usual risks with surgery such as complications with anesthetic, nausea, sickness, sometimes respiratory or neurological need to be considered.

Tennis elbow surgery complications should also be considered. Here’s a closer look at some:

  • Nerve damage – neurovascular damage is a rare complication of tennis elbow surgery but care must be taken to make sure the risk is minimized.
  • Stiffness of the elbow – surgical intervention may result in the elbow becoming stiff. Sometimes a slight loss in the ability to straighten the elbow may occur but this is usually self-limiting and improves generally over 3-6 months.
  • Change in symptoms – while the probability of symptom improvement remains high, occasionally symptoms remain the same as pre-surgery or in rare cases, may deteriorate.
  • Wrist Weakness – a complication of tennis surgery which fortunately is rare, sometimes the grip strength or wrist extension can be reduced but this can be improved with physiotherapy.
  • Chronic Regional Pain Syndrome (CRPS) – this is an uncommon, but serious tennis elbow surgery complication. This happens when the nerves in the hand over react and cause swelling, stiffness, and pain which, fortunately, improves, albeit slowly, over time.
  • Infection – while uncommon in elbow surgery, if it occurs it is usually superficial and can be treated with oral antibiotics.

All of these potential tennis elbow surgery complications should be weighed up together with assessment by your sports medicine surgeon who can analyze your individual needs and get you on the road to recovery.