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Golfer’s Elbow - Injury Overview

by Jaydee Vykoukal, PT, DPT October 18, 2017 0 Comments

Man playing golf

For golf enthusiasts, or anyone who asks a bit more of their lower arm, maintaining joint health is serious business. Elbow pain, stiffness, and a variety of other symptoms can result from a condition known as golfer’s elbow, also known as medial epicondylitis, which affects people of all different lifestyles and interests (not just golfing as the name implies). 

While fast and effective treatments can make quick work of a case of golfer’s elbow, letting symptoms linger could lead to serious and lasting complications. The best course of action is to get a head start on this injury and prevent it from happening in the first place. Keep reading to get all the information you need to keep your joints healthy.

Understanding Golfer’s Elbow

Knowing what to do for golfer’s elbow starts with in-depth knowledge of the different parts that make up our lower arm joints. The elbow is actually made up of three bones and a collection of different muscles, ligaments, and tendons. In golfer’s elbow, the medial epicondyle, a bony bump on the inside of the elbow, is affected. 

What is golfer’s elbow? When the tendons that connect to the medial epicondyle become inflamed, the condition is known as golfer’s elbow. However, it has other names, including “Little League elbow” and can be caused by a number of different activities like throwing, improper lifting, and repeated daily tasks. 

Golfer’s and tennis elbow are two different forms of epicondylitis, which is the inflammation of the tendons in the elbow. The key difference between tennis and golfer’s elbow is where the inflammation and pain occurs. For golfer’s elbow, the inflammation is primarily in the medial (inside) tendon, whereas tennis elbow affects the lateral (outside of the elbow) tendons.

Click Here to Learn About Tennis Elbow

What Causes Golfer’s Elbow?

Similar to conditions like tennis elbow, golfer’s elbow is most commonly correlated to its related sport that causes pain. However, golfer’s elbow causes can range widely, including a number of common activities we might not expect. Chronic golfer’s elbow can even develop over the course of years, doing nothing more strenuous than gripping objects or flexing the wrists repetitively. 

Another common cause of golfer’s elbow is weightlifting. Whether done as part of a regular exercise, daily duties at work, or household chores, lifting heavy objects can put additional strain on the arm, leading to injury. Here are other common causes of golfer’s elbow that are primarily caused by excessive strain and overuse to the wrist flexors (forearm muscles) and fingers (these muscles attach to the medial epicondyle):

  • Carpentry, construction, and plumbing
  • Bowling
  • Baseball
  • Carrying suitcases or other heavy bags
  • Gripping objects, such as pencils or steering wheels, with too much force

Diagnosing Golfer’s Elbow

Your sports medicine doctor will perform a series of golfer’s elbow tests to pinpoint the cause of your symptoms. A physical examination that involves palpation and an assessment of strength and elbow range of motion is typically all that is needed for a diagnosis.

During a physical examination, your doctor or physical therapist will evaluate pain and stiffness by moving the joint in various directions. If a fracture or muscle tear is suspected, your orthopedic doctor may order imaging tests such as an X-ray or MRI.

Golfer’s Elbow Symptoms

When suffering from golfer’s elbow, pain with swinging a golf club is the most common symptom. However, severe golfer’s elbow can come with a long list of related symptoms which can worsen over time:

  • Pain and tenderness on the inside of the elbow and forearm, particularly with gripping and wrist or elbow flexion
  • Stiffness and difficulty moving the joint
  • Weakness, which may extend all the way to the wrist and fingers
  • Numbness along the arm and even in fingers

Symptoms may be more pronounced during activities like shaking hands, turning doorknobs, or gripping objects.

How Long Does Golfer’s Elbow Last?

Healing golfer’s elbow is typically possible within the span of six to eight weeks, with the right conservative treatment and quick action. This will most likely include physical therapy. Full recovery time will ultimately depend on the severity of symptoms and a patient’s goals.

Learn More About Treating Golfer’s Elbow

However, golfer’s elbow surgery recovery time may take months, depending on the patient’s age and medical history. Physical therapy for golfer’s elbow will be necessary after surgery to restore full function to the joint.

Preventing Golfers Elbow

Sometimes, knowing how to heal golfer’s elbow tendinitis is a matter of taking the right steps before symptoms appear. Stretching and strengthening exercises (/blogs/resources/golfers-elbow-stretches) and elbow braces can actually do their jobs more effectively when worn regularly, adding support and stability to the joint with your golf swing and other activities. In general, paying close attention to any pain or discomfort is wise, and knowing when to take a break is important. Sometimes use of anti-inflammatory medication, such as ibuprofen, a cortisone injection, or even simple ice packs can help give you temporary relief and get you back on track with a pain-relieving program.

Getting Back in the Swing of Things

Our joints deserve special attention for the role they play in our daily activities. For those who ask more of their elbows, whether through golf, tennis, or daily tasks, taking the proper steps early on is the best path to long-term health. Even if golfer’s elbow symptoms have already cropped up, there is no reason why an effective treatment strategy should be more than an arm’s length away. Talk to your trusted healthcare provider, and begin using an elbow brace to support and protect your elbow while you get on the road to recovery.

Sources:

https://www.mayoclinic.org/diseases-conditions/golfers-elbow/basics/definition/con-20027964

https://www.webmd.com/fitness-exercise/golfers-elbow-basics

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Jaydee Vykoukal, PT, DPT
Jaydee Vykoukal, PT, DPT

JayDee Vykoukal is a Doctor of Physical Therapy, owner of the healthy habit platform Health Means Wealth, and freelance medical writer. She loves traveling and spending time with her family in nature. Her passion is helping others continue to participate in the activities they love through education and proper exercise.



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