While the name might seem like a giveaway, golfer’s elbow, or medial epicondylitis, is an injury seen in golfers but it is not exclusive to them. It affects both men and women equally and mostly affects people in the 30 to 50 age group. Golfer’s elbow, is similar to tennis elbow in that it is an overuse injury, however, the difference is in the location of the pain, which in golfer’s elbow is felt on the inside of the arm while tennis elbow is a pain on the outside of the arm. The characteristics of golfer’s elbow is an inflammation in the tendons that connect muscles in the arm to the elbow. This results in pain and tenderness in the bone on the inside of the elbow, also known as the medial epicondyle. The pain is particularly felt when the hand is gripping something. The gripping action need to hold a golf club for example, if too tight, may cause changes to the forearm muscles leading to pain or injury.

What causes golfer’s elbow?

While golfer’s elbow pain is commonly seen among people who regularly play golf, any day-to-day repetitive action using the wrist or clenching of the fist, performing the same actions repeatedly, can lead to golfer’s elbow. Simply using everyday tools in a repetitive manner, such as hammers, screwdrivers, a gardening rake or paintbrush may bring about golfer’s elbow symptoms. This type of injury is often seen in tennis players, bowlers and baseball players (it is sometimes referred to as “pitcher’s elbow”). Poor technique when hitting the golf ball or gripping the club can also lead to inside elbow pain and inflammation. Neck and shoulder problems, including bad posture, may lead to inner elbow pain too.

If we consider that the average golfer’s swing can be performed between 70-100 times (or more) during the course of an 18 hole game and often being repeated a few times a week we begin to see how the average golfer can easily be at risk of injury or pain inside their elbow joint. The repetitive nature of the golf swing can attribute to inflammation and pain if pre-game warm up and strength training are not part of the players routine. Rest between games of golf is also suggested as a good way of avoiding overstressing the muscles of the arm and avoiding injury. Actually, in many cases golfer’s elbow can be effectively treated with rest.

How do you know if you have golfer’s elbow?

Before you decide to call on your doctor, there is a simple test that you can do yourself at home to see if you actually have golfer’s elbow.

Sit on a chair and place your arm on a table with the palm of your hand facing upwards. Ask someone to hold your wrist down and while they are doing this you should try to raise your hand by bending your wrist. If, by doing this action, you feel pain, chances are you have golfer’s elbow.

There are other signs and symptoms that could indicate golfer’s elbow and these include:

  • A weak grip
  • Pain when clenching fist
  • Dull ache in arm/elbow when at rest
  • Difficulty when trying to grasp or hold objects, more noticeable when the arm is stretched out.
  • Elbow pain inside arm
  • Muscle stiffness or weakness in the wrists and hands

How to treat Golfer’s elbow

Depending on the severity of the pain, often simple rest can give great relieve – rest and abstinence from the action which is causing the pain – take a break from your golfing passion for a few weeks! The self-explanatory PRICE principles can be applied to help with pain relief:

  • Protection
  • Rest
  • Ice
  • Compressions
  • Elevation

Visit the following page if you need information or advice on who to call for elbow pain treatment. If pain is acute or mobility of the arm is severely limited due to stiffness and weakness, a visit to an sports medicine doctor may be necessary. Here are some of the recommendations that your physician may make.

Potential Recommendations for Golfer’s Elbow

Pain Killers

Especially anti-inflammatory (non steroid) medicines – NSAIDs – are often prescribed to help with pain and inflammation. These medicines have proven to be successful in relieving pain, especially at the beginning when the pain is at its worst. The anti-inflammatory medicine can either be taken in oral form, as a tablet, or applied to the affected area as a gel. Long term use of the tablet form is not advisable however as overuse can lead to stomach problems.

Exercise with or without Physiotherapy

Special exercises can be very successful in the management of golfer’s elbow pain. Specific strengthening exercises help to recondition the affected muscles and tendons.
Usually a combination of the above two are the main options for short-term treatment of golf elbow pain.

Steroid Injections

When other methods have not offered a cure, cortisone injections may be used to relieve symptoms. While they are effective in relieving pain, some studies have shown however that they may hinder the healing process and should therefore be considered with caution.

Ultrasound Therapy

This therapy uses high-frequency sound waves which warm the tissue improving the circulation of blood.

Massage

Have been shown to relieve pain and may be considered as a non-invasive option to treatment.

Brace or Bandage

Used to help take the strain off the muscles these are worn on the arm or elbow. When pain starts it is advisable to put the arm under as little stress as possible, limiting the mobility of the arm using a brace or bandages will help with this.

Sometimes, if the above conventional methods do not produce the best outcome and the injury is severe, elbow surgery may be an option and one that should be considered carefully with your medical doctor.

While treatment may vary depending on the severity of pain and how much it affects the life of the patient the most important piece of advice initially would be to modify the lifestyle of the patient – this might mean changes to movements and activities that seem to worsen the pain or symptoms. Taking a break from activities that trigger the pain can help as part of the healing process. Golfers should check that they are using the correct size clubs. Technique should be improved making sure that the correct swing technique is being applied. You might find that small changes make big differences in managing sudden elbow pain and discomfort and allow you to carry out tasks and hobbies with ease and pleasure for many more years.