Background: Owing to the change in paradigm of the histological nature of epicondylitis, therapeutic modalities as exercises such as stretching and eccentric loading and mobilisation are considered for its treatment.
Objective: To assess the evidence for effectiveness of exercise therapy and mobilisation techniques for both medial and lateral epicondylitis.
Methods: Searches in PubMed, Embase, Cinahl and Pedro were performed to identify relevant randomised clinical trials (RCTs) and systematic reviews. Two reviewers independently extracted data and assessed the methodological quality.
Results: One review and 12 RCTs, all studying lateral epicondylitis, were included. Different therapeutic regimes were evaluated: stretching, strengthening, concentric/eccentric exercises and manipulation of the cervical or thoracic spine, elbow or wrist. No statistical pooling of the results could be performed owing to heterogeneity of the included studies. Therefore, a best-evidence synthesis was used to summarise the results. Moderate evidence for the short-term effectiveness was found in favour of stretching plus strengthening exercises versus ultrasound plus friction massage. Moderate evidence for short-term and mid-term effectiveness was found for the manipulation of the cervical and thoracic spine as add-on therapy to concentric and eccentric stretching plus mobilisation of wrist and forearm. For all other interventions only limited, conflicting or no evidence was found.
Conclusions: Although not yet conclusive, these results support the belief that strength training decreases symptoms in tendinosis. The short-term analgesic effect of manipulation techniques may allow more vigorous stretching and strengthening exercises resulting in a better and faster recovery process of the affected tendon in lateral epicondylitis.
Keywords: Eccentric exercise; Elbow injuries; Evidence based reviews; Exercise rehabilitation; Intervention effectiveness.