What is Golfers Elbow?
Golfer’s elbow is a painful condition also known as medial epicondylitis. It causes pain on the inside part of your elbow where the forearm muscle tendons attach to the bone. Sometimes the pain will radiate from your elbow and down your forearm and into the wrist.
Though it’s called Golfer’s elbow, non-golfers can develop it if they repeatedly use their wrists or clench their fingers.
What Are The Symptoms?
Golfer’s elbow symptoms can develop suddenly or gradually occur. Some symptoms may include:
Pain and tenderness at the inside part of your elbow, and sometimes the inner forearm. Certain movements typically worsen the pain.
Stiffness in your elbow can occur.
Weakness in your hands and wrists.
Numbness or tingling that can radiate into your fingers (most commonly the ring and little fingers).
What Are The Causes?
Golfer’s elbow is caused by damaged muscles and tendons at the elbow that allow you to control your wrist and fingers. Excess or repeated stress, especially forceful wrist and finger movement, can cause such damage. Throwing, hitting, improper lifting technique and not warming up enough can contribute to the development of golfer’s elbow. Some activities that are performed for more than an hour a day for several days in a row and certain occupations that tend to lead to golfer’s elbow include:
Racket sports. Improper technique, backhand, excessive topspin, and inappropriately sized racket can lead to injury.
Throwing sports. Improper pitching technique, football, archery and javelin throwing can cause golfer’s elbow.
Weight training. Lifting weights using improper technique (curling the wrists during a biceps exercise) can overload the elbow muscles and tendons leading to injury.
Forceful, repetitive occupational movements. These occur in fields such as construction, plumbing and carpentry.
History and physical examination is the most important tool for diagnosing golfer’s elbow.
Sometimes an X-ray will be ordered to rule out a fracture, arthritis or other causes of elbow pain. Rarely, an MRI is used to assess for soft tissue damage.
What Are The Treatments?
Treatment for golfer’s elbow should start with avoiding activity that causes your pain. Resting your elbow by limiting those activities can help the healing process. Ice can be helpful in reducing your pain. Additional treatments include:
Over-the-counter pain reliever acetaminophen (Tylenol, others) and nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs like ibuprofen (Advil, Motrin, others) or naproxen sodium (Aleve).
Corticosteroid injections may be used if conservative treatment has not resolved or improved your pain. Corticosteroids can help reduce inflammation and pain in the area.
Platelet rich plasma (PRP) can be injected into the area to help promote healing by signaling repair cells to come to the area.
Physical therapy can be beneficial in helping you strengthen the surrounding and supporting muscles. Stretching those muscles can also help reduce the tension at your elbow. Progressive loading of the tendon can be effective in strengthening the tendon and reduce pain.
Bracing can also help reduce tendon and muscle strain while decreasing pain.
Surgery is rarely necessary, but if your symptoms do not improve with conservative treatment then your pain management specialist will refer you to a trusted orthopedic specialist to be evaluated for surgical intervention. Once such surgery is called the TENEX procedure which is a minimally invasive surgery that involves ultrasound guided removal of scar tissue near the painful tendon area.
Strengthening your forearm muscles, adequately stretching before activity, using the correct equipment, having proper throwing or hitting form and lifting technique, and knowing when to rest are important for preventing golfer’s elbow.