Tennis Elbow (or Pain along the Outside Forearm near the Elbow) can be Debilitating
Let’s face it, our hands and forearms (whether we realize it or not) take a beating everyday! Simple tasks such as twisting open a jar or turning a doorknob to more complex tasks such as kipping or butterfly pull-ups and holding onto a barbell during deadlifts all require strength and coordination of our hand and forearm muscles. Therefore, it makes sense that many athletes find themselves dealing with forearm pain, particularly along the outside of their forearm and elbow. This dysfunction of the outside forearm is oftentimes called “tennis elbow.” If you’ve experienced it, you know just how annoying it can be. It tends to hang around for a few months, and limits your ability to hang from a pull-up bar, hold onto a barbell, play a musical instrument, hold a video game controller, and to complete basically any task involving the slightest amount of grip strength.
Dry Needling and Corticosteroid Injections are Two Common Methods to Treat Tennis Elbow
A 2020 study was published in the Journal of Shoulder and Elbow Surgery in early 2021. This study compared the effectiveness of dry needling vs. corticosteroid injection for the treatment of tennis elbow. The control group received 5 total sessions of dry needling in the region of the outside elbow. Each patient in the control group received 2 sessions of dry needling per week until they had received 5 total dry needling sessions. The experimental group received one corticosteroid injection in the region of the outside elbow. The groups were then re-assessed for progress at 3 weeks and 6 months post-treatment.
Dry Needling Outperforms Corticosteroid Injections for the Treatment of Tennis Elbow
What did the study find? This study found that BOTH the dry needling and corticosteroid groups experienced statistically significant improvements in symptoms. However, the dry needling group experienced statistically significant GREATER symptom improvement when compared to the corticosteroid group. Therefore, although both groups experienced improvement, the dry needling group experienced more improvement compared to the corticosteroid group. Age, symptom-duration, and pre-treatment levels of symptom irritation were statistically equivalent among both groups, meaning that none of these variables can account for the greater benefits attained from dry needling compared to corticosteroid injections.
Dry Needling is a Better Intervention for Tennis Elbow Symptoms Compared to Corticosteroid Injections
According to this study, “the literature contains more recommendations to ‘avoid’ rather than ‘use’ CS (corticosteroid) injections. Repeat CS applications should be strictly avoided; these not only cause tendon degeneration and compromise tendon healing but also reduce surgical success.” That is a bold statement!! Sadly, this story is one that gets played out way too often. A patient goes and sees a physician who performs a corticosteroid injection, and then the patient feels good for about 4 weeks but then immediately becomes worse-off than they were prior to the injection. Therefore, if you’ve seen a physician who has suggested a corticosteroid injection for your tennis elbow, I’d politely suggest you seek out the opinion of a qualified physical therapist trained in dry needling. I have dry needled hundreds of patients, many of which had tennis elbow and have had excellent results using dry needling when combined with exercise to eliminate tennis elbow symptoms. Contact me today and let’s get you out of this funk of elbow pain!!
And remember, “if you wanna get going, then you gotta get LOADING!”
–The Next Level Physio
Uygur, Esat, et al. “The Use of Dry Needling vs. Corticosteroid Injection to Treat Lateral Epicondylitis: A Prospective, Randomized, Controlled Study.” Journal of Shoulder and Elbow Surgery, vol. 30, no. 1, 2021, pp. 134–139., doi:10.1016/j.jse.2020.08.044.