July 3, 2002 — A sonic shock-wave treatment works better than drugs to relieve the pain of tennis elbow.
It’s been tried before. Now a report in the June issue of The American Journal of Sports Medicine confirms that shock waves work even better than drugs or surgery.
“The results of the current study showed 91% complete or nearly complete resolution of pain in patients with [tennis elbow] after shock-wave treatment,” write Ching-Jen Wang, MD, and Han-Shiang Chen, MD, of Chang Gung Memorial Hospital, Kaohsiung, Taiwan.
People with tennis elbow have soreness or pain on the outside part of the elbow. Tennis elbow, a form of tendinitis, occurs when there is injury to the end of the tendon that connects the muscles of the forearm, wrist, and hand to the upper arm bone at the elbow. It is called tennis elbow because this sport involves movements that commonly cause this problem. However, many people with tennis elbow have never even picked up a tennis racket.
The machine that creates shock waves is commonly used to painlessly pulverize kidney stones. The same machine can be trained on painful elbows. About half of people report, at most, mild discomfort during treatment.
Nobody is sure exactly why shock waves work for tennis elbow. It’s thought to increase blood flow to the area. Shock-wave treatment has also been used to help broken bones heal.
The patients treated by Wang and Chen had tried other treatments without success. Most got better after just one treatment. Some needed one or even two more sessions before they got maximum relief.
To test how well the treatment worked, Wang and Chen used a “chair test” — that is, they had patients lift a 7.7-pound stool with the treated arm. Those treated with shock waves had significantly less pain, greater function, and more strength, compared with people where a fake shock wave treatment was performed.