Does effectiveness of exercise therapy and mobilisation techniques offer guidance for the treatment of lateral and medial epicondylitis?

Due 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. To assess the evidence for effectiveness of exercise therapy and mobilisation techniques for both medial and lateral epicondylitis searches in PubMed, Embase, Cinahl and Pedro were performed to identify relevant randomised clinical trials (RCTs) and systematic reviews were conducted. Two reviewers independently extracted data and assessed the methodological quality. 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 as a result of the 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 as opposed to 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 could be found.

While not conclusive at this time, these results support the belief that strength training decreases symptoms in tendinosis. The short-term analgesic effect of manipulation techniques might make more vigorous stretching and strengthening exercises possible resulting in a better and faster recovery process of the affected tendon in lateral epicondylitis.