Golfer’s Elbow: The Symptoms and Treatments You Need to Know to Avoid Further Strain

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People who like playing sports are familiar with the injuries that their sport can cause. Minor injuries like blisters on hands and feet, muscle strains, and more severe problems like torn ligaments are not uncommon to them. Even a slower, non-contact sport like golf can lead to injuries like Golfer’s Elbow.

Disclosure: We receive compensation from the companies whose products we review. We are independently owned and the opinions expressed here are our own.
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Medial epicondylitis is a condition in which the tendons that connect to the elbow and forearm become inflamed. The pain that golfers may experience radiates from the bony protrusion inside of the elbow to the forearm.

The primary cause for this injury is an overuse of the muscles of the forearm, especially those that allow players to grip the clubs, rotate the arm, and flex the wrist. Overdoing these movements causes small tears or pulling of the tendons, which causes pain.

It isn’t just golf that leads to this condition as other sports and non-sports activities can affect the tendons as well. Some of these activities include:

  • Bowling
  • Baseball
  • Hammering
  • Raking
  • Painting

Pitcher’s elbow is another name for the condition, which is also similar to tennis elbow. The primary difference between golfer’s and tennis elbow is which tendons these conditions affect. Tennis elbow affects the outer tendon, while the one on the inside of the elbow is the one that affects golfers.

By staying off the course and resting, along with the appropriate treatments, golf enthusiasts can keep playing the game they love. However, knowing the symptoms of this condition can help golfers recognize the problem and know when to seek help.

Symptoms of Medial Epicondylitis

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Some of the symptoms of having an inflamed tendon near the elbow are:

  • Tenderness and pain: It usually hurts on the inside of the elbow, which can travel down the arm to the inside of the forearm. A sudden movement of the arm can cause the pain to get worse.wling
  • Stiffness: Sometimes the elbow can feel stiff and clutching the hand into a fist can hurt.
  • Weakness: The inflamed tendon can also cause weakness of the wrists and hands.
  • Tingling or numbness: The condition can cause tingling and numbness in the ring and pinky fingers.

The pain can be sudden, or it can develop gradually. It can also get worse with movements, like swinging a golf club. Having a sore elbow doesn’t always require a doctor’s intervention, but other symptoms like those below warrant making an appointment with your primary doctor.

When to Visit the Doctor

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When the symptoms begin, try resting your arm, take over-the-counter pain relievers, and ice the inside of the elbow. However, if these conditions persist, then see your doctor:

  • The elbow feels hot and looks inflamed
  • You’re running a fever
  • The elbow won’t bend
  • The joint appears deformed
  • You suspect you have a broken bone

Not everyone will develop a problem with their elbow when playing golf because there are some risk factors for golfer’s elbow. They include:

  • Being over 40
  • Obesity
  • Smoking
  • Doing repetitive activities, including swinging a golf club, for at least two hours every day

Diagnosing Medial Epicondylitis

sleeping bed covering him with elbow outside

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When visiting a doctor about the problem, your medical history, activities, and a physical examination will be the primary way to diagnosis the condition. The doctor may apply pressure to the areas of the elbow, tendon, and forearm where you’ve experienced pain and ask you to move your wrist and fingers in certain ways.

He or she may order an x-ray to eliminate problems like a fracture or arthritis to ensure a tendonitis diagnosis is correct. Rarely will doctors order an MRI or any other more advanced radiology before diagnosing the condition.

Home Treatment of the Condition

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In many cases, medial epicondylitis doesn’t need anything more than home treatment. Most doctors will advise their patients to ice their elbows for 15 to 20 minutes about three to four times every day. Resting the elbow and not playing golf or doing other repetitive activities may be necessary as well.

Some patients may receive references to a sports medicine doctor to treat their condition. A sports medicine specialist may recommend using a brace or splint when golfing to prevent putting stress on the tendon. To treat pain symptoms, nothing more than an over-the-counter pain reliever, like ibuprofen or acetaminophen, is necessary for most people.

A topical pain reliever can help with minor pain as well, especially if you don’t want to take oral medication. For more severe pain, a corticosteroid or lidocaine injection may be necessary to relieve it and bring down the swelling from inflammation.

Physical Therapy for Medial Epicondylitis

physical therapy for golfer's elbow

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A recommendation for physical therapy may help some patients learn how to move their arms, wrists, or hands to prevent the condition from flaring up again. A physical therapist can use one of several techniques to treat the condition.

Managing the Pain

A therapist can show the suffering golfer how to avoid pain by identifying and not doing the movements that cause pain and inflammation. They may use hands-on techniques like massages, ice massages, or moist heat to reduce the swelling and allow the tendon to heal.

Manual Therapy

Treating the condition may involve manual therapy or manipulation of the area to promote healing. A physical therapist may use manual techniques like:

  • Gentle movements of the joints
  • Assign stretches for the elbow, wrist, and forearm to help a range of motion
  • Massaging the soft tissue
  • Shoulder massages or stretching
  • Massages or stretching of the thoracic spine

Medial epicondylitis not only directly affects the elbow, but it can cause imbalances in the body on the side with the tendon issue.

Exercises for Golfer’s Elbow

Often the range of motion is restricted due to tendon damage, so a physical therapist can teach the patient several exercises to improve it and strengthen the area around the tendon. They involve learning mobility and stretching exercises to maintain the range of motion of the elbow.

The therapist will customize strengthening ones for each patient’s needs. They may use weights, resistance bands or medicine balls to improve the strength of weaker muscles. They will also provide exercises to do at home to help maintain the strength in the hand, wrist, forearm, and elbow to patients after they complete their visits to a physical therapist.  

During the therapy sessions, the patient will also learn more about their condition and how they can prevent further damage to the tendon. The therapist will educate them on why certain exercises are necessary to do when they’re at home, how to care for their injury and help them make adjustments for swinging clubs, tasks at work, or throwing techniques.

Braces for the Elbow

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Since medial epicondylitis is the most common injury in golf, players can wear either a strap or sleeve brace to help prevent more damage to the tendon that’s involved with the injury. The use of an elbow strap can reduce the pain by compressing the tendon. Most of the straps are light or medium weight and fit on the arm between the elbow and forearm.

An elbow sleeve is a compression sleeve with a strap to provide support for the elbow and prevent further damage to the area. Some sleeves provide medium support, while others are full support compression sleeves. A sports medicine physician will recommend the type of brace you need for your elbow’s condition.

Elbow Splints

A splint acts to immobilize the joint to prevent further injury. However, it can be more difficult to play golf, work, or do other activities involving the arm with the condition. Most splints are either fiberglass or plaster, much like a cast. However, a splint uses straps to tighten it to the arm instead of completely wrapping the arm before applying plaster as with a cast.

Splints often go on the elbow after surgery, but braces can be put on to support the joint while playing golf in hopes of preventing more damage and needing surgery. A splint should fit snugly and not be too tight or loose. 

If the splint feels tight or causes swelling, elevating the arm may help relieve it. However, before an injury takes place, use the suggestions below to prevent this common golf injury.

Surgical Treatment

Although it usually isn’t necessary, a doctor may recommend surgery if the condition doesn’t respond to more conservative treatments within six to 12 months. A new procedure called TENEX isn’t as invasive as past surgeries, and it involves using ultrasound to help remove scar tissue around the tendon. Recovery from traditional surgery can take up to six months.

Preventing Golfer’s Elbow

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Fortunately, players can use one of several preventive techniques to reduce the chances of sustaining tendon damage and avoid the pain, stiffness, and loss of motion that can come with medial epicondylitis.

Strengthen Forearm Muscles

Having stronger muscles to support the elbow can help prevent this medical condition. Try squeezing a tennis ball or building up muscle by lifting a lightweight to strengthen them in the forearm. These simple exercises can absorb some of the energy that physical stress can cause the tissues surrounding the elbow.

Stretch Before Golfing

When you get to the course, do some stretching exercises to loosen up the muscles, tendons, and other tissues in your arms. Stretch the area gently to prevent stress or strain on it and do a few easy practice swings before it’s your turn to tee off.

Use Correct Techniques and Form

Even though you may not need lessons, ask the golf pro at the course or country club where you play to check your swing and form. They can scrutinize it and make suggestions to correct it if they spot a problem with your form. Making corrections can help avoid unnecessary strain on your muscles.

Consider Updating Equipment

If the clubs that you’re using are older, then it could be time to update them for a graphite or carbon fiber set that is lighter. A lighter set of clubs will remove some of the stress that heavier clubs can put on the body.

Lift Heavy Objects Correctly

The correct form to use when lifting weights or heavy boxes is to lead with your legs and keep your wrists in a rigid position. This method is vital because if the joint bends while lifting, it could increase the force on the elbow, which can lead to injuries. So, keep them fixed to reduce force.

Rest When Necessary

When you feel pain in the elbow or forearm, don’t push on but take a break from your match. Risking an injury is not worth pushing yourself when you’re in pain.

Following these preventive measures can keep you from needing a doctor’s help to get over medial epicondylitis. Along with reducing pain, warm-up exercises can maintain your range of motion, prevent stiffness, and taking time off from the sport that you love.

If you want to stay healthy and on the course, do the preventive exercises, ice your elbow, and take breaks from playing to allow your body time to heal.

Adam Jenkins
 

I’m certainly no expert on the game of golf, but I am someone who knows what it’s like to start out completely overwhelmed. From one beginner to the next, here's to a better golf game!

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