Evidence for the effectiveness of electrophysical modalities for treatment of medial and lateral epicondylitis

A number of treatments are available to treat epicondylitis. Among these are instrumental electrophysical modalities, ranging from ultrasound, extracorporeal shock wave therapy (ESWT), transcutaneous electrical nerve stimulation (TENS) to laser therapy, often used to treat epicondylitis. This study aimed to present an evidence-based overview of the effectiveness of electrophysical modality treatments for medial as well as lateral epicondylitis (LE). 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. A best-evidence synthesis was used to summarise the results. A total of 2 reviews and 20 RCTs were included, all of which concerned LE. Different electrophysical regimes were evaluated: ultrasound, laser, electrotherapy, ESWT, TENS and pulsed electromagnetic field therapy. Moderate evidence was seen for the effectiveness of ultrasound versus placebo on mid-term follow-up. Ultrasound plus friction massage exhibited moderate evidence of effectiveness versus laser therapy on short-term follow-up. On the contrary, moderate evidence was found in favour of laser therapy over plyometric exercises on short-term follow-up. For all other modalities only limited/conflicting evidence for effectiveness or evidence of no difference in effect was observed.

This study revealed potential effectiveness of ultrasound and laser for the management of LE. To draw more definite conclusions high-quality RCTs examining different intensities are needed in addition to studies focusing on long-term follow-up results.