The warmer weather of spring often brings an influx of golfers to the links, which can also mean an increase in complaints of elbow pain known as golfer’s elbow. But this condition, also called medial epicondylitis, is not limited to golfers – it can affect anyone who performs activities or tasks that involve forceful repetitive motions of the wrist and forearm.
As an orthopedic doctor who specializes in arm and elbow conditions, I regularly see patients dealing with the pain of golfer’s elbow who hope to return quickly to their recreational activities. Here are answers to their most frequent questions about this condition:
What Is Golfer’s Elbow and What Causes It?
Golfer’s elbow is a form of tendonitis, which is inflammation or irritation to the tendon. It is caused by overuse or injury to the muscles in the forearm that help you squeeze your fingers together, rotate your arm and flex your wrists. When swinging a golf club or chopping wood, for example, we use excessive force in these repetitive motions that bend the wrist toward the palm. This stress can result in tiny tears in the tendons of the forearm muscles that attach to the bony bump on the inside of the elbow.
Golfer’s elbow involves the tendons on the inner (medial) side of the elbow, similar to the way tennis elbow affects the tendons on the outer (lateral) side. Both conditions are usually the result of repetitive stress on the tendons.
Besides golf, common causes of golfer’s elbow include:
- Sports that involve a racket (tennis) or throwing (baseball, javelin)
- Repetitive movements in occupations such as construction, painting or yard work
- Carrying a heavy bag or suitcase
- Poor technique in weightlifting
What are the Symptoms of Golfer’s Elbow?
Those tiny tears in the tendons result in inflammation, swelling and pain at the elbow joint on the inside of the arm. The pain may radiate into your forearm and wrist. Movements that may worsen the pain include bending the wrist toward the forearm, shaking hands or gripping an object.
Other possible symptoms of golfer’s elbow:
- A shooting sensation down the forearm
- A tingling sensation in the fingers
- Stiffness or difficulty moving the elbow
- Weakness in the wrist
- Reduced grip
How is Golfer’s Elbow Treated?
Conservative methods and therapies usually help relieve the symptoms of golfer’s elbow. Nonsurgical treatment options include:
- Rest: Avoid activities that could stress the forearm, wrist or elbow. Give the inflammation time to heal.
- NSAIDs: Non-steroidal anti-inflammatory medications such as ibuprofen or naproxen can help with swelling and discomfort.
- Ice: Applying an ice pack for about 15 minutes several times a day is effective in reducing inflammation.
- Injections: Injecting a corticosteroid at the painful area may help relieve lingering symptoms. Platelet-rich plasma (PRP) injections can also be an option.
- Exercises: Your doctor may recommend a stretching or strengthening routine, either with a physical therapist or at home.
- Bracing: A brace is an option for extra support to reduce strain.
- Sports-related modifications: For those who do acquire golfer’s elbow from sports, it may help to work with a professional to ensure you have the proper equipment or if you need a change in technique or swing mechanics.
Most people do not need surgery to treat golfer’s elbow, but if conservative methods are not effective after 6-12 months, surgery may be an option to remove damaged or scar tissue.
Can Golfer’s Elbow be Prevented?
Prevention is ideal whenever possible. Advancing age, obesity, smoking, or continually performing repetitive activities can be factors in developing golfer’s elbow. To help decrease your risk:
- Consider a strengthening and flexibility regimen for the forearm muscles
- Stretch and warm up before activity or exercise
- Use correct form and technique during repetitive movements in sports or work-related activities
If you are suffering from golfer’s elbow or another condition causing elbow pain, call us at 913-319-7600 for more information or expert recommendations on treatment.
About the Author
Mark J. Winston, M.D., is an orthopedic surgeon specializing in hand, wrist and upper extremity surgery as well as sports medicine. Before joining Dickson-Diveley Orthopaedics, Dr. Winston completed a hand and upper extremity fellowship at the Hospital for Special Surgery/Weill Cornell Medical College in New York.
The medical information contained in the Dickson-Diveley Orthopaedics website is provided to increase your knowledge and understanding of orthopedic conditions. This information should not be interpreted as a recommendation for a specific medical or surgical treatment plan. As each patient may have specific symptoms or associated problems, the treatment regimen for a specific patient may not be the proper treatment for another.
Gaining knowledge and understanding of a particular problem or condition is the first step in any medical treatment plan. I believe the information presented on our website will be helpful for those individuals experiencing hand and wrist diseases, injuries, or other related problems. However, this information is not intended to replace the advice of your family physician. You are encouraged to consult with your physician to discuss any course of treatment presented or suggested.