About 1 to 3 percent of Americans develop tennis elbow — an overuse injury that causes chronic pain around the outside of the elbow — but the treatments given to many sufferers appear to be ineffective in the long run.
A clinical trial published last week in the Journal of the American Medical Association found that patients who received standard treatments such as a cortisone injection and physical therapy fared no better after one year than those who went untreated, with most recovering completely.
Australian researchers recruited 165 people with the condition and randomly assigned them to one of four groups. The groups got either a cortisone shot alone, a shot with eight weeks of physical therapy, a placebo shot with eight weeks of therapy, or a placebo shot alone.
One year later, the researchers found that none of the treatments worked better than a placebo for long-term relief and that those who had the cortisone injection (either alone or with physical therapy) were significantly less likely to have made a full recovery than those who had a placebo or physical therapy without the cortisone shot.
The cortisone shot, however, was much better than the placebo for relieving pain and immobility and improving a patient’s quality of life within the first four weeks of treatment.
Interestingly, physical therapy provided somewhat smaller benefits than the cortisone shot for short-term pain relief, but it also didn’t hinder recovery, as the cortisone shot did.