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Exercise interventions in lateral elbow tendinopathy have better outcomes than passive interventions, but the effects are small: a systematic review and meta-analysis of 2123 subjects in 30 trials


Objective To evaluate the effectiveness of exercise compared with other conservative interventions in the management of lateral elbow tendinopathy (LET) on pain and function.

Design Systematic review and meta-analysis.

Methods We used the Cochrane risk-of-bias tool 2 for randomised controlled trials (RCTs) to assess risk of bias and the Grading of Recommendations Assessment, Development and Evaluation methodology to grade the certainty of evidence. Self-perceived improvement, pain intensity, pain-free grip strength (PFGS) and elbow disability were used as primary outcome measures.

Eligibility criteria RCTs assessing the effectiveness of exercise alone or as an additive intervention compared with passive interventions, wait-and-see or injections in patients with LET.

Results 30 RCTs (2123 participants, 5 comparator interventions) were identified. Exercise outperformed (low certainty) corticosteroid injections in all outcomes at all time points except short-term pain reduction. Clinically significant differences were found in PFGS at short-term (mean difference (MD): 12.15, (95% CI) 1.69 to 22.6), mid-term (MD: 22.45, 95% CI 3.63 to 41.3) and long-term follow-up (MD: 18, 95% CI 11.17 to 24.84). Statistically significant differences (very low certainty) for exercise compared with wait-and-see were found only in self-perceived improvement at short-term, pain reduction and elbow disability at short-term and long-term follow-up. Substantial heterogeneity in descriptions of equipment, load, duration and frequency of exercise programmes were evident.

Conclusions Low and very low certainty evidence suggests exercise is effective compared with passive interventions with or without invasive treatment in LET, but the effect is small.

PROSPERO registration number CRD42018082703.

  • tendinopathy
  • elbow
  • tennis elbow
  • exercise

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