It’s a beautiful day to be on the greens. You’ve teed up your first ball and decide to take a practice swing. As you grip the club, you notice that the little pain in your arm is a little louder, and your grip is weaker. You turn your arm inward and pain shoots from your elbow to your hand. You have medial epicondylitis, otherwise known as golfer’s elbow.
What Is Golfer’s Elbow?
The elbow joint consists of muscles, ligaments, tendons, and bones, and it works with your shoulder and wrist joints to allow motion in the arm. Golfer’s elbow affects the tendons in the elbow and is a form of tendonitis. It creates varying degrees of inflammation and pain on the inner side of your elbow, where the tendons of your forearm muscles attach to the bony bump on the inside of your elbow. The pain may extend into your forearm and wrist.
Golfer’s elbow is a result of repetitive bending, grasping, weight-bearing, or twisting movements. If not treated properly, it can result in lasting damage that may limit the range of motion in your arm and create chronic pain.
Who Gets Golfer’s Elbow?
Surprisingly, less than 1% of the population will get golfer’s elbow, and those that do tend to be aged between 45 and 60. Other risk factors include obesity and smoking. Despite the name, 90% of people with golfer’s elbow don’t get it playing sports. You are more susceptible to golfer’s elbow if you overdo or use poor technique in:
- Throwing sports, like football or baseball.
- Racquet sports, like racquetball or tennis.
- Golf or weight training.
Or if you work in fields requiring repetitive motion, such as a:
- Contractor or a construction worker
- Factory/assembly line worker
- Computer user
- Rock climber
Symptoms of Golfer’s Elbow
Golfer’s elbow symptoms can come on suddenly or gradually and be intermittent. It usually starts as a tender spot on the inside of your elbow and is often in your dominant arm (the arm you write with and use most often). Other symptoms can include:
- Pain and tenderness on the inside of the elbow that can extend along the inner side of your arm from elbow to wrist.
- Aching inside your elbow that may radiate into your forearm.
- Stiffness when you try flexing your elbow or making a fist.
- Weakness in your hands and wrists.
- Numbness or tingling in the fingers, particularly in your pinky and ring fingers.
- Decreased grip strength.
- Pain or discomfort when shaking hands.
Golfer’s Elbow vs. Tennis Elbow
Golfer’s elbow and tennis elbow are two conditions resulting from injury or wear and tear to your elbow, but they are distinctly different.
Golfer’s elbow is pain and inflammation on the inside of the elbow (medial epicondylitis). Tennis elbow is pain and inflammation on the outside of the elbow (lateral epicondylitis.)
Anyone can have either or both of these conditions at any time, no matter whether they play sports or not, and no matter what sport they play. It is also possible to have these injuries at the same time.
When to See a Doctor for Golfer’s Elbow
It is important to see a MOSH orthopedic doctor right away if:
- It’s your first time experiencing inner elbow pain, forearm pain, or wrist and hand pain.
- If home treatment does not alleviate symptoms.
- If symptoms get worse.
- If your elbow, forearm, wrist, or hand has developed a deformity.
- If you can’t bend your elbow.
- If you have problems gripping.
- If you have a fever, or if the elbow is red or hot.
- If tingling and numbness progress to your hand.
How Is Golfer’s Elbow Diagnosed?
At the doctor’s office, your orthopedic specialist will take a patient history, which will include questions about prior injuries, what activities you do, how the injury occurred, problems with movement or grasping, what medications you take, and any other medical conditions you currently have.
The doctor will also perform some tests to make sure there is no other reason for the discomfort. These tests may involve x-rays, CT scans, and possibly an MRI to view soft tissue. The doctor may also perform manual tests, like bending your wrist against resistance to see where the elbow pain starts. All of these tests are painless and may only cause some mild discomfort.
Treatment For Golfer’s Elbow
Golfer’s elbow usually responds well to conservative at-home treatments and takes about 6 weeks for full recovery with non-surgical intervention. Typical treatments for mild cases include:
- Rest: refrain from golf or any other repetitive elbow use.
- Ice: apply an ice pack to your elbow for 15-20 minutes four times a day for several days, taking care to never expose the skin directly to ice.
- Activity: Gradually begin to stretch and strengthen the elbow; physical therapy can help.
- Medicine: Over-the-counter pain relievers like naproxen or Tylenol® and an anti-inflammatory like ibuprofen (Advil®).
Other treatment options are available if your golfer’s elbow is more severe. These may include:
- Physical therapy
- Night braces or day braces for the elbow
- Cortisol injections
- Surgery if the pain lasts more than 6 months (surgery as a golfer’s elbow treatment is rare)
How to Prevent Golfer’s Elbow And Swing Easy
The good news is that there are many ways to prevent golfer’s elbow. It can’t be avoided all the time, but you have a better chance of playing a full 18 holes pain-free if you follow these prevention tips:
- Use proper equipment. This may mean lighter golf clubs, switching from a manual screwdriver to a power drill, and using office ergonomic equipment.
- Stretch and warm up before any exercise or activity involving a lot of motion or intensity.
- Be mindful. Pay attention to what your body is telling you. Never play through pain, and cut down on playing time if you feel any discomfort.
- Use proper technique. Make sure your swing isn’t twisting your body in an unnatural way. Get lessons or watch videos on proper forms for sports and other activities.
Remember, golfer’s elbow can happen to anyone. It’s important to see a doctor if you experience any symptoms, stop the activity that is causing pain and discomfort, and treat the condition to avoid permanent damage. If you take care of your golfer’s elbow now, you can be back on the greens swinging easy in no time!
At MOSH, we believe everybody deserves top-quality care. Know that wherever you receive your initial treatment, the MOSH orthopedic surgeons and orthopedic rehabilitation team are here to get you back to doing the activities you love. You can be confident you are getting the best care when you schedule an appointment with MOSH.