Tennis Elbow and Prednisone

While tennis elbow, also known as lateral epicondylitis, is a common affliction among players, anybody whose physical routine involves repetitive arm and elbow motions can become afflicted. These motions can cause microscopic tears in your forearm tendons, along with inflammation leading to elbow pain that can radiate through your forearm and into your wrist. Prednisone is a corticosteroid that reduces tendon inflammation, which helps the pain abate. Doctors typically reserve prednisone treatment for severe cases, and it's typically just one element of a therapeutic regimen.

While symptoms are mild at first, tennis elbow pain soon becomes intense. (Image: marcovarro/iStock/Getty Images)

Tennis Elbow Characteristics and Symptoms

Tennis elbow results from inflammation of the tendons that connect your forearm muscles to your elbow's lateral epicondyle, a knob of bone located just above your elbow joint. The condition is often triggered by tearing your extensor carpii radialis brevis, a forearm muscle that helps you keep your wrist stable during activities such as swinging a tennis racket. When you first get tennis elbow, you'll probably only experience minor discomfort, which soon progresses to intense pain. The condition often causes weakness in the wrist, making it difficult for you to firmly grip an object.

Treating Tennis Elbow With Prednisone

Doctors reserve prednisone for severe cases of tennis elbow. In their book "General Practice: The Integrative Approach," authors Kerryn Phelps and Craig Hassed note that prednisone is the corticosteroid most frequently used therapeutically, and doctors usually prescribe pills rather than administering prednisone through an injection. The New Medical Information and Health Information website indicates that you may not experience any improvement until you've taken prednisone for a full week, and that experiencing complete relief from tennis elbow symptoms may take up to 12 months.

Potential Side Effects

Prednisone may elevate your blood pressure and trigger abrupt changes in your mood. Most corticosteroids cause water retention, but since prednisone doesn't trigger significant mineralocorticoid activity, which involves maintenance of your body's electrolytes and is the catalyst for water retention, it's usually not a side effect that affects prednisone users. Prednisone can have serious side effects when used long term, including bone deterioration that can lead to osteoporosis, and may contribute to diabetes by disrupting the body's metabolism of glucose.

Ancillary Therapies

Your doctor will probably advise you to rest your afflicted arm for several weeks, restricting your physical workload and recreational activities. Most patients undergo a physical therapy regimen, and if you got tennis elbow from playing the game, consult with an instructor to make sure you're properly executing your swings. If you don't respond positively to treatment after six to 12 months, your physician may recommend surgery. Most surgeries for tennis elbow-related injuries are outpatient procedures and the surgeon is often able to repair your injury through arthroscopic surgery, a minimally invasive procedure involving very small incisions.

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