Tendonitis of the elbow is characterized by pain, swelling and slight loss of mobility. Elbow tendonitis surgery is considered only when icing, bracing, exercises, medications and other conservative treatments do not show positive results.
Elbow tendonitis is an inflammatory condition of the tendons in the elbow region. A tendon refers to the band of inelastic tissues that attach the muscles to the bone in a specific area. Medically, the terms tendonitis and tendinitis are used colloquially. Elbow tendonitis is mostly caused due to overuse of the muscles and tendons. Hence, people who participate in tennis and alike active sports are more prone to this tendon inflammation than others. Reliable treatment approaches for elbow tendonitis include self-care, exercises, medications and surgery.
When to Go for Elbow Tendonitis Surgery?
In elbow tendonitis, the lateral and medial epicondyles of the elbow are affected. Based on which epicondyle is strained, it is diagnosed as tennis elbow (or lateral epicondylitis) or golfers elbow (or medial epicondylitis). Notable symptoms are pain, swollen elbow, warmth, stiffness and tenderness upon touching the elbow. Complete rest, icing, performing exercises, elbow bracing and taking anti-inflammatory medications are some of the effective ways to reduce inflammation and pain symptoms. Painful symptoms subside gradually after a few weeks of complete rest.
In majority of the cases, elbow tendonitis and tennis elbow do not require invasive surgery for treatment. They heal on their own within a matter of few months, provided the affected elbow is refrained from any kind of movement. However, if pain persists despite following conservative treatments for 6 months to one year, elbow tendonitis surgery is recommended. Surgical procedure is also suggested for patients who experience severe symptoms, including restricted movement of the elbow. As per medical data, approximately 10-15 percent of the patients require surgery for tennis elbow treatment.
Surgery for Elbow Tendonitis: An Overview
Prior to this surgery, the doctor will examine the symptoms and make sure the patient has received six months to one year of conservative treatment. MRI (magnetic resonance imaging), nerve conduction study and necessary diagnostic tests will be conducted to check the severity of elbow tendonitis. In addition, medical history and subsequent tests will be performed to confirm, whether the patient is fit enough for surgery. If everything goes normal, surgery for tennis elbow or elbow tendonitis is performed as an outpatient procedure. The procedure calls for administration of general or regional anesthesia.
In this surgery, the damaged tendon tissues are excised, which is followed by reattachment of the healthy tendons to the elbow bone. In another approach, a cut is made in the affected area, and the degenerated tendon sheaths are trimmed slightly, instead of removing them totally. A candidate who has participated in any one of these two procedures is allowed to go home on the same day itself. Or in some cases, he/she may be kept under observation for a day in the hospital.
Following the surgery, the patient is asked to wear a splint around the elbow, which is meant for protecting the operated area. Stitches and dressing are removed in the next follow-up visit, which usually falls within 2 weeks of the surgery. During the recovery period, the doctor will recommend rehabilitation exercises for prompt results. Although recovery time varies from one patient to another, most candidates return to their normal work after about 3 weeks to 1½ months. And after 3-6 months, they can resume the normal routine or sports activities.
As expected, certain risks factors accompany elbow tendonitis surgery. Surgery complications include negative responses to anesthesia, bleeding, infection, nerve injury, skin scarring and slight immobility of the arm. While most candidates respond well to surgery, a few patients do not show any improvement even after surgery. Thus, probable complications should be discussed beforehand, so that patients are well-informed about the same prior to opting for the surgery.