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Tennis Elbow Surgery Recovery Time

People recovering from tennis elbow surgery are generally able to return to normal daily activities in two to six weeks; return to work within three to 12 weeks; and return to sports in four to six months.

Of course, recovery times vary depending on a variety of factors. Some of these factors may include your age, health and severity of the injury. Your type of work and the type of sports you are returning to may also impact how quickly you can return to them. The best option will be to speak with your doctor or orthopedic surgeon to know what they anticipate for recovery time.

What is tennis elbow?

Anatomy and Physiology

To understand fully what tennis elbow is, it will be helpful to review the anatomy of the elbow as well as define a few terms. Beware as this paragraph may contain some large words, but don’t worry–we’ll get to those right after!

“Tennis elbow” is the common name for a condition called lateral epicondylitis. Lateral epicondylitis refers to a tendonosis or tendonitis in the elbow joint. In other words, excessive, repeated use of the joint causes tissue damage and/or inflammation of the tendon that attaches the extensor carpis radialis brevis muscle (ECRB) to the lateral epicondylar region of the distal humerus.

Let’s take a look at a few words defined to help us understand the anatomy and physiology of lateral epicondylitis, or “tennis elbow”:

  • Tendonitis: The -itis- ending on words means inflammation. In this case we are talking about the inflammation of a tendon.
  • Tendonosis: The -osis- ending on words refers to any abnormal condition. In this case we mean tendon tissue damage of any extent.
  • Tendon: A tendon is tissue that connects muscles to bones.
  • Ligament: A ligament is a tissue that connects bones to bones.
  • Lateral epicondylar region: Lateral refers to a part of the body further away from your midline or the center of your body. Epicondyle refers to the bony protrusion on other bones–in this instance the two ball like bony structures around your elbow that are located on your humerus.
  • Humerus: The humerus is the name of the upper arm bone, connecting your shoulder to your elbow.
  • Radius: The radius is the name of the larger of the two forearm bones. It connects from the thumb to the lateral side of the humerus
  • Ulna: The ulna is the smaller of the two forearm bones. It connects from the pinky side of your hand to the medial side of the humerus.
  • Extensor carpis radialis brevis (ECRB) muscle: This is the name of one of the forearm muscles, prone to excessive or overuse especially by tennis players. This is the muscle affected by “tennis elbow.”

In simpler terms, with “tennis elbow,” the tendon that connects a forearm muscle to the elbow joint becomes damaged as a result of overuse causing pain, weakness and numbing.

Who is at risk?

As its name suggests, tennis players are most at risk for this musculoskeletal condition. It is said that nearly 50% of tennis players will suffer from pain, weakness or discomfort from lateral epicondyle tendonosis.

Improper technique, size and weight of tennis racquet have demonstrated a significant increase in risk of developing “tennis elbow.”

However, not only tennis players are susceptible to “tennis elbow.” Any activity, sport, task or job that requires repetitive extension (bending back) of the wrist poses a significantly increased risk of tissue damage. Other jobs or activities where extending the wrist back is a frequent or repeated action may include playing violin, painting, decorating, or certain factory jobs. Golfers may be at risk for injury to the inside part of the elbow–this is called “golfer’s elbow.”

Increased age can also pose a significant increase in risk for developing “tennis elbow,” especially for people over the age of 40 years.

How can I prevent it?

Preventing “tennis elbow” for tennis players means adhering to the following three recommendations:

  1. Select a properly sized and weighted tennis racquet
  2. Learn and practice correct form and technique
  3. Learn how to stretch and warm up your forearm muscles before and after playing tennis

For others who find themselves in jobs or other daily activities that put them at risk of developing tennis elbow should practice stretching both daily and before and after performing these activities.

How can I treat tennis elbow?

Most people do not need surgery to treat or correct “tennis elbow.” If you think you are suffering from pain, weakness or numbness due to “tennis elbow” talk to your doctor and ask for different treatment methods. Sometimes it goes away on its own, but first, your doctor may suggest some of the following:

Other methods should always be tried prior to surgery as “tennis elbow” can most often be corrected without surgery. Although surgery is mostly always successful, it is not always needed.

Other Procedures

  • Ultrasonic tenotomy (TENEX procedure)- Doctors insert a special needle into the affected tendon using ultrasound technology. The needle produces a vibration that liquifies the tendon so that it can be extracted through the needle.
  • Injections- Doctors inject platelet-rich plasma or botox into the affected tendon.
  • Dry-Needling- Doctors pierce the painful tendon with a needle many times to provide and promote healing.

What does tennis elbow surgery mean for me?

What happens during the surgery?

A variety of different surgeries or techniques exist to correct pain due to “tennis elbow.” Generally, the surgeon locates the affected tendon and removes a portion of the damaged area or releases the attachment of the damaged tendon. They will then work to repair the healthy area.

The best option will be to talk to your doctor and ask them about their surgical methods.

What will the scar look like?

An incision will be made on the outside of the elbow. After the procedure is finished it will be closed with either sutures (stitches) or staples and then covered in a bandage. These will be removed seven-ten days following the procedure.

What does recovery look like?

Your arm will be placed in a splint following surgery to immobilize it. After removal of the stitches seven to ten days post surgery, a smaller splint may be used for another two weeks. You will not be able to move your elbow during this part of the recovery period.

You will need to attend rehabilitation and/or physical therapy. There you will begin to stretch, move and do exercises to strengthen the affected joint. At two to six weeks post surgery you will begin to use your elbow to perform some daily activities. You will have pain at the beginning, likely for the first three to six months. Physical therapy may need to be continued for up to one year after the surgery.

People are usually able to return to work three to twelve weeks after surgery. Speak with your doctor or physical therapist to determine the best time to return to work for you. A brace may need to be worn at work if you do activities that stress your elbow and forearm.

Athletes may return to sports four to six months after surgery. Again, this should be determined with you and your physical therapist or doctor. A brace will need to be worn during activities that stress your elbow and forearm.

Tips for recovering at home

Rehabilitation! You will be advised by your doctor or physical therapist to slowly increase your activity, especially to the affected elbow. Follow their advice, the best thing you can do in your recovery are the physical rehabilitation exercises.

Rest! If you are doing something that hurts the affected elbow, rest it.

Ice! Ice can help to reduce both pain and swelling. Ice for 10-20 minutes every 1-2 hours within your first three days of recovery. After that, ice when you are resting–but only for 10-20 minutes at a time, and remember to put a washcloth or piece of cloth between the ice and your skin.

 

 

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