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Acupuncture: A Match for Tennis Elbow Hypertrophy

Tennis elbow, a common tendinopathy of the outer elbow, was originally named after observing its prevalence in lawn tennis players in the late 1800’s. It is characterized by pain that originates at the outer elbow and is commonly referred to as "lateral epicondylitis“. Despite the name, this is a common injury that occurs in a variety of non-tennis related activities.

In a recent study published by Ural, et al. in 2017, acupuncture was shown to reduce tendon hypertrophy in patients diagnosed with this condition. Tendon hypertrophy, an indicator of more pronounced tendon pathologies, involves swelling and thickening of the tendon.

In this study, 41 patients (52 involved limbs, some patients had the condition bilaterally) were randomly selected into acupuncture and control groups. Both groups received conventional care which consisted of rest, nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs, exercise, and bracing.

The acupuncture group was additionally given 10 treatments of acupuncture, 2-3 treatments per week, for a total of 10 treatments. The acupuncture points selected included one ashi point (literally meaning "oh, yes!" - the painful spot was located via palpation), LI 10, LI 11, LU 5, LI 4, and SJ 5. The needles were retained for 25 min.

In both groups the pain reduced and function improved, although with greater effect witnessed in the acupuncture group. What is unique about this study is that the common extensor tendon thickness, the hypertrophy that occurs with more advanced cases of tennis elbow, decreased in size but only in the acupuncture treatment group! These findings demonstrate an observable healing response that could be measured objectively with ultrasound and was unique to the acupuncture group.

There are several research articles published which use these same acupuncture points to demonstrate objectively how acupuncture benefits Tennis Elbow.