Tennis elbow will get better without treatment (known as a self-limiting condition).
Tennis elbow usually lasts between 6 months and 2 years, with most people (90%) making a full recovery within a year.
The most important thing to do is to rest your injured arm and stop doing the activity that caused the problem.
There are also simple treatments to help with the pain, like holding a cold compress, such as a bag of frozen peas wrapped in a towel, against your elbow for a few minutes several times a day.
Avoiding or changing activities
If you have tennis elbow, you should stop doing activities that strain the affected muscles and tendons.
If you use your arms at work to carry out manual tasks, such as lifting, you may need to avoid these activities until the pain in your arm improves.
Alternatively, you may be able to change the way you do these types of movements so they do not place strain on your arm.
Talk to your employer about avoiding or changing activities that could aggravate your arm and make the pain worse.
Painkillers and non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs)
NSAIDs are available as tablets or creams and gels (topical NSAIDs), which are applied directly to the area of your body where there is pain.
Topical NSAIDs are often recommended for musculoskeletal conditions, such as tennis elbow, rather than anti-inflammatory tablets. This is because they can reduce inflammation and pain without causing side effects, such as feeling sick (nausea) and diarrhoea.
Some NSAIDs are only available with a prescription. A GP or pharmacist will be able to recommend a suitable NSAID.
Physiotherapy for tennis elbow
The GP may refer you to a physiotherapist if your tennis elbow is causing more severe or persistent pain. Physiotherapists are healthcare professionals who use a variety of methods to restore movement to injured areas of the body.
The physiotherapist may use manual therapy techniques, such as massage and manipulation, to relieve pain and stiffness, and encourage blood flow to your arm. They can also show you exercises you can do to keep your arm mobile and strengthen your forearm muscles.
The use of a brace, strapping, support bandage or splint (called an orthosis) may also be recommended in the short term.
Steroid injections for tennis elbow
Steroids, medicines that contains synthetic versions of the hormone cortisol, are sometimes used to treat tennis elbow.
Some people with tennis elbow are offered steroid injections when other treatments have not worked.
The injection will be given directly into the painful area around the elbow. A local anaesthetic may be given first to numb the area and reduce the pain.
Steroid injections are only likely to give short-term relief and their long-term effectiveness is poor. If they're helping, you may be offered up to 3 injections in the same area, with at least a 3- to 6-month gap between them.
Shockwave therapy for tennis elbow
Shockwave therapy is a non-invasive treatment, where high-energy shockwaves are passed through the skin to help relieve pain and promote movement in the affected area.
The number of sessions you will need depends on the severity of your pain. You may have a local anaesthetic to reduce any pain or discomfort during the procedure.
Shockwave therapy, while safe, can cause minor side effects including bruising and reddening of the skin in the area being treated.
Research shows that shockwave therapy can help improve the pain of tennis elbow in some cases. However, it may not work in all cases, and further research is needed.
PRP injections for tennis elbow
Platelet rich plasma (PRP) is a treatment that may be offered by a surgeon in hospital to treat tennis elbow.
PRP is blood plasma containing concentrated platelets that your body uses to repair damaged tissue. Injections of PRP have been shown to speed up the healing process in some people, but their long-term effectiveness is not yet known.
The surgeon will take a blood sample from you and place it in a machine. This separates the healing platelets so they can be taken from the blood sample and injected into the affected joints. The procedure usually takes about 30 minutes.
Surgery for tennis elbow
Surgery may be recommended in cases where tennis elbow is causing severe and persistent pain. The damaged part of the tendon will be removed to relieve the painful symptoms.
Page last reviewed: 10 November 2020
Next review due: 10 November 2023