Objectives: To determine whether minimal intervention by occupational specialists involving information about the disorder, encouragement to stay active and instruction in graded self-performed exercises could enhance the prognosis of lateral epicondylitis compared with the treatment usually given in general practice, to quantify workplace factors associated with the prognosis, and to consider treatments given in general practice.
Methods: A randomized controlled trial was performed in a cohort of 266 consecutive new cases of lateral epicondylitis diagnosed in general practice. Workplace factors were assessed with questionnaires at the time of inclusion, and patients completed follow-ups at 3, 6 and 12 months. Status at 1 yr was assessed as overall improvement and pain reduction compared with the time of diagnosis. General practitioners (GPs) registered the treatments given for both cases and controls during follow-up. Numbers of contacts with GPs and physiotherapists were obtained from the National Health Insurance registry. Prognostic factors were analysed by multiple logistic regression analysis.
Results: After 1 yr, 83% of cases showed improvement in the condition, but the intervention was found to have had no advantage. Poor overall improvement was associated with employment in manual jobs [odds ratio (OR) 3.0, 95% confidence interval (CI) 1.0-8.7], a high level of physical strain at work (OR 8.5, CI 1.0-74.7) and a high level of pain at baseline (OR 2.3, CI 1.0-5.3). Pain reduction less than 50% was associated with manual jobs (OR 2.3, CI 1.1-5.1), high physical strain at work (OR 3.6, CI 1.0-12.9), high baseline distress (OR 1.9, CI 1.0-4.0) and tennis elbow on the dominant side (OR 3.1, CI 1.4-6.8). The intervention group received less treatment and fewer treatment modalities, but the intervention was not followed by a reduction in the number of visits to GPs and physiotherapist clinics during 12 months of follow-up.
Conclusions: Poor prognosis at 1 yr of follow-up for lateral epicondylitis was related to manual work and high baseline pain, whilst no relation was found between the type of medical treatment given/chosen and prognosis. This may have implications for the future management of lateral epicondylitis in terms of a greater focus on interaction with the workplace regarding job modification to reduce physical demands during recovery.