Similar to tennis elbow, golfer’s elbow is a type of elbow tendinosis that can be frustratingly painful. It is not limited to golfers and is characterized by pain from the elbow to the wrist on the inside of the elbow. Fortunately, most of the time it will heal on its own but if it remains recalcitrant, it can be successfully treated.
The medical name for the golfer’s elbow is medial epicondylitis, a form of tendinosis resulting in pain and inflammation in the tendons that connect the elbow to the forearm. The pain usually stems from the bony bump inside the elbow and can radiate into the forearm. Diagnosing a golfer’s elbow requires a physical exam that is relatively straightforward:
- Resistance against a flexed wrist with the elbow in full extension typically will cause reproduction of symptoms at the medial aspect of the elbow.
- Tenderness to palpation directly over the medial epicondyle will be present.
Golfer's Elbow Symptoms & Causes
The chief symptom of golfer’s elbow is pain, which can happen suddenly or over time, but you may also experience:
- Tingling or numbness in the fingers, usually the ring and little fingers
- Hand and wrist weakness
- Elbow stiffness
- Tenderness and pain, usually on the inner side of the blow or forearm. The pain can increase or be felt with specific movements, like making a fist or swinging a golf club.
Causes of Golfer's Elbow
Golfer’s elbow is an overuse injury, specifically overusing the muscles in the forearm, which allows for gripping, rotating the arm, and flexing the wrist. Repetitive flexing, gripping, or swinging pulls or creates tiny tears in the tendons, which create the injury. This does not only occur in golfers. Any wrist, hand, or forearm motions that are done repetitively can cause it, such as:
- Weight training: Not using the proper technique when lifting weights can cause overworking of the elbow’s tendons and muscles
- Racket sports: Using a racket too light or heavy or using the incorrect technique when playing can harm the tendons.
- Repetitive movements: Careers like painting, plumbing, or working in construction often involve forceful and repetitive movements that can cause a golfer’s elbow.
- Throwing sports: Sports like baseball, bowling, football, and archery can cause strain on the tendon, and medial epicondylitis is sometimes referred to as “pitcher’s elbow” in these areas.
Treatments for Golfer's Elbow
Most of the time, golfer’s elbow will resolve itself without any medical treatments, but adequately managing the injury can help speed the healing:
- Rest, Ice, nonsteroidal antiinflammatories, and a counter-force brace can be helpful. Specifically avoiding reaching under load is important. Being patient with your healing is important as it can take months to get better.
- Corticosteroid injections from your doctor can help relieve pain and swelling in the short term.
- Other office-based treatments such as blood patch injections or needling can help stimulate healing.
- Stem cell therapy and purified platelet therapy are expensive and should be rarely used.
- If pain continues for more than six months, surgery may be needed to remove damaged parts of the tendon and reduce pain.
Golfer's Elbow Prevention Techniques
Golfer’s elbow is an overuse or repetitive injury, and the key to preventing it is to avoid overuse of the elbow. If you feel any pain in the elbow during an activity, stop before it worsens. Other preventative methods include:
- Strengthening the forearm muscles by using light weights
- Stretching before activities
- Correcting your technique or form
- Using the right equipment, such as in golf or racket sports
At Proliance Puget Sound Orthopaedics, we provide best-in-class orthopedic care to our community with compassion, caring, and dedicated expertise for golfer’s elbow. If you’re suffering from any of the symptoms listed or need treatment, we encourage you to call (253) 830 – 5200 or request an appointment online to see one of our physicians.