Background: Chronic tennis elbow (lateral epicondylosis) is a common disorder. Like other chronic soft-tissue pain conditions it is often difficult to treat successfully. The effects of exercise have been discussed, but no convincing evidence has been put forward so far, and a simple protocol for exercise is lacking.
Aims of the study: This study is a randomized, controlled, clinical trial of the effect of exercise versus expectation (wait-list) on pain, muscle strength, function, and quality of life in patients with long-standing lateral epicondylosis.
Methods: Eighty-one subjects with tennis elbow lasting for more than 3 months were randomly allocated to an exercise group (n = 40) or a reference group (n = 41). The exercise group performed daily exercise, with weekly load increase, for 3 months. The reference group was wait-listed, but otherwise followed in the same way. Outcome measures were pain during maximum voluntary muscle contraction (Cozen's test) and pain during maximum muscle elongation with a load (modified Empty-can-test); muscle strength was measured with a Chatillon MSE 100 hand-held dynamometer, and the Disability of the Arm, Shoulder and Hand (DASH) and the Gothenburg Quality of Life questionnaires.
Results: The exercise group had greater and faster regression of pain, both during muscle contraction and muscle elongation, than the reference group (p = 0.0005 and p = 0.0016, respectively). There was a non-significant muscle strength difference between the groups, but no differences regarding DASH scores or quality of life measures.
Conclusions: Exercise appears to be superior to expectation in reducing pain in chronic lateral epicondylosis.
Trial registration: ClinicalTrials.gov NCT00888225.