Many people have experienced a painful elbow from time to time after a golf game, mowing the lawn, or a long session on the computer. Usually it clears up after a few days’ rest. But for a lot of people, the pain doesn’t go away, and they eventually have to go in for treatment. Elbow pain which is due to inflammation of the tendons that attach the lower arm bones to the upper arm is usually called “tennis elbow.” It can also be called tendonitis of the elbow, or sometimes “golf elbow.”
In most countries, doctors recommend an approach that starts with basic care like resting the elbow, avoiding overuse, and wearing a brace. Next, physical therapy, anti-inflammatory drugs, or pain killers are tried. Finally, steroid injections (cortisone shots) may be used in an effort to reduce the inflammation.
In China, acupuncture is the first choice of doctors and their patients in the treatment of tennis elbow. More radical approaches like surgery or steroid injections are a last resort. In my practice, I often see people who have already tried everything that Western medicine has to offer, including steroid injections, and who still suffer with debilitating pain.
The effectiveness of acupuncture in treating tennis elbow was the subject of a study done in Sweden by Dr. Gunilla Brattberg. She found that patients treated with acupuncture became much better, or even completely free of pain. None of them got worse or had any side effects from acupuncture treatment. Dr. Brattberg noted that acupuncture is a more time-consuming treatment modality than steroid injection, but while there may be dramatic improvement using steroids, there can also be a worsening of symptoms with steroids. Most acupuncture practitioners find that patients who have had steroid injections are slower to respond to acupuncture treatments than patients who have not been injected.
What kind of treatment can you expect at an acupuncture clinic? Exact treatment will vary somewhat from person to person, but most people begin with two acupuncture treatments a week for a few weeks, decreasing the frequency of treatment as the condition improves. The practitioner may also use electrical stimulation, heat lamp, and herbal patches to speed up the healing. Because tennis elbow is the inflammation of a tendon, it usually takes longer to heal than an inflamed muscle would, but you should notice at least some improvement after four or five treatments.
Compiled by: Hao Chen ( Harry )