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Daily Dose

Finding an effective treatment for tennis elbow

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.

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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.

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