Recently, the world’s best tennis players took over Daniel Island at the Family Circle Cup. In the crowd, many recreational players watched in awe looking for tips to improve their game. For some, playing without pain would be a start because of the well-known injury “tennis elbow.”

Tennis elbow is a common condition caused by the overuse of the arm, forearm, and hand muscles. Dr. Bright McConnell, an orthopedic surgeon with Charleston Sports Medicine has been treating tennis elbow for years. He states, “Tennis elbow is caused by the overuse of muscles and tendons around the forearm. Close to fifty percent of tennis players will experience tennis elbow at some point in their playing years. They are constantly hitting the tennis ball with their racket with force. This can cause a nagging pain outside of the elbow that increases over time.”

Carol Wilson is a 4.0 league player that has played tennis for twenty years. Ten of those years she has played through the on and off the pain of tennis elbow. She states, “I played with tennis elbow for years. I wore the sleeves, the tape, anything I thought would help. I did not want to give up the game.” Finally, the pain associated with tennis elbow forced Wilson to put the racket down. “It was achy, towards the end it was sort of a constant pain that I felt beyond the tennis court. I couldn’t pick up my purse, use my computer mouse because my elbow ached all the time,” she explains.

There are several treatment options for players with tennis elbow. States Dr. McConnell, “First a player generally tries to play through the pain. Then they may try the gels, the cortisone shots, and even physical therapy.” Physical therapy is an effective treatment for some with mild tennis elbow. Wilson tried physical therapy, but her pain remained.

Now there is a new procedure that those suffering from tennis elbow. It is called the Tenex Health (previously known as the FAST) procedure. Dr. McConnell states, “The Tenex Health TX procedure, or fasciotomy and surgical tenomoty, is a minimally invasive procedure that requires no incisions and minimal downtime post-procedure. This procedure has proven to be quite effective for those suffering from tennis elbow.”

Dr. McConnell, the only surgeon locally trained to perform the Tenex Health procedure, treated Wilson in December. He states, “After an initial examination, she proved to be the perfect candidate for this procedure. The pain associated with her tennis elbow was affecting her everyday life and physical therapy had been ineffective.” Based on technology developed in collaboration with the Mayo clinic, the Fast procedure is performed using a local anesthetic to numb the area; patients are awake and alert. During the procedure, ultrasound imaging is used to identify the location of the scar tissue. Once located, a small instrument-the size of a toothpick is inserted into the damaged tendon. The instrument delivers ultrasonic energy specifically designed to cut, break up, and remove damaged tissue safely and quickly, without disturbing the surrounding healthy tendon tissue.

According to Dr. McConnell, this procedure is a good alternative for tennis players that are considering surgery for tennis elbow relief. He states, “Unlike conventional treatment methods, the Tenex Health TX replicates the goal of an open surgical procedure by removing the damaged tissue with minimal invasion. The procedure usually takes 15 minutes or less and requires only an adhesive bandage to close the micro-incision.” Unlike traditional open surgeries that may require several months of recovery, the Tenex Health TX recovery period is on average a 1 to 2-month timeframe. Following the short recovery, a full return to the patient’s normal activities is expected.

A study done in April 2013 by the American Journal of Sports Medicine found the Tenex (FAST) procedure to be “safe, specific, minimally invasive and well-tolerated treatment for recalcitrant lateral elbow tendinopathy.” All but one patient showed evidence of efficacy that was sustained at least one year. Wilson is not surprised by the studies’ outcome. By March, she was back on the court hitting tennis balls. While she is three months out from the procedure, assessment of patients for Tenex Health continues six months beyond the date of surgery. Wilson recommends Tenex Health TX (FAST) to any tennis player playing through the pain. She states, “The hardest thing is to put the racket down. I thought I could play through the pain. I now play pain-free, it is like a new beginning.”

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