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Surgery for tennis elbow

5-minute read

What is tennis elbow?

Tennis elbow is caused by wear and tear of the tendons on the outside of your elbow, causing pain, stiffness and, sometimes, weakness.

What are the benefits of surgery?

9 in 10 people heal within a year without surgery. The main benefit of surgery is to get relief from the symptoms more quickly.

Are there any alternatives to surgery?

Resting your elbow when you have symptoms and not doing the activities that cause pain will treat the condition but it can take up to 2 years to recover fully.

Physiotherapy can help you to recover more quickly.

Some people may also benefit from wearing a splint.

A steroid injection into your elbow joint can sometimes reduce pain and stiffness for several months.

Injections of blood, taken from a vein in your arm and injected into your elbow, are more effective than other types of injection.

Sometimes an injection of hyaluronic acid can improve symptoms.

Illustration showing the tendons of a right elbow.
The tendons of a right elbow.

What does the operation involve?

Keyhole surgery is usually performed under a general anaesthetic but sometimes a nerve block is used. The open operation can be performed under a local anaesthetic.

The operation usually takes about 30 minutes.

Keyhole surgery

Your surgeon will usually make two small cuts, about half a centimetre long, around the joint. They will insert a small telescope through one of the cuts so they can examine the joint. They will insert surgical instruments through the other cut to remove the damaged part of the tendon and to treat any other problems with the joint.

Open surgery

The operation is similar but is performed through a 4 to 5 centimetre cut made on the outside of your elbow.

How can I prepare myself for the operation?

If you smoke, stopping smoking now may reduce your risk of developing complications and will improve your long-term health.

Try to maintain a healthy weight. You have a higher risk of developing complications if you are overweight. Regular exercise should help to prepare you for the operation, help you to recover and improve your long-term health. Before you start exercising, ask the healthcare team or your GP for advice.

Speak to the healthcare team about any vaccinations you might need to reduce your risk of serious illness while you recover. When you come into hospital, practise hand washing and wear a face covering when asked.

What complications can happen?

Some complications can be serious and can even cause death.

General complications of any operation

  • bleeding
  • infection of the surgical site (wound)
  • allergic reaction to the equipment, materials or medication
  • chest infection

Specific complications of this operation

  • bleeding into the joint
  • infection in your elbow joint
  • severe pain, stiffness and loss of use of your arm and hand
  • damage to nerves around the joint
  • damage to the radial nerve
  • continuing symptoms

Consequences of this procedure

  • pain
  • unsightly scarring of your skin

How soon will I recover?

You should be able to go home the same day.

The physiotherapist may give you exercises and advice to help you to recover from the operation.

It can take a few weeks to get back to normal activities.

Regular exercise should help you to return to normal activities as soon as possible. Before you start exercising, ask the healthcare team or your GP for advice.

Most people have a major improvement and a quicker return to normal activities.


Tennis elbow is caused by wear and tear of the tendons on the outside of your elbow. The main benefit of surgery is to get relief from the symptoms more quickly.


The operation and treatment information on this page is published under license by Healthdirect Australia from EIDO Healthcare Australia and is protected by copyright laws. Other than for your personal, non-commercial use, you may not copy, print out, download or otherwise reproduce any of the information. The information should not replace advice that your relevant health professional would give you. Medical Illustration Copyright ©

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Last reviewed: September 2023

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