Golfer’s elbow (clinically called medial epicondylitis) is an injury to the elbow joint tendons. Golfer’s elbow is similar to tennis elbow, but it affects a different part of the elbow. Tennis elbow is an injury on the outside of the elbow. Golfer’s elbow, on the other hand, is an injury on the inside of the elbow.
What Are the Symptoms of Golfer’s Elbow?
Golfer’s elbow primarily causes pain on the inside of the elbow (1). This pain can extend to the wrist and sometimes the fingers. Other symptoms include:
- Stiffness at your elbow joint, causing difficulty or pain when moving the arm
- Weakness in your hands and fingers
- Numbness along the arm, wrist, or hand
These symptoms are rather generic and may not necessarily be caused by golfer’s elbow. It’s important to see your doctor for a proper diagnosis. If symptoms are severe or accompanied by an inability to move the joint at all, seek medical attention immediately.
Golfer’s elbow may resolve on its own if given rest and time.
What Causes Golfer’s Elbow?
Despite the name, golfer’s elbow can be caused by various activities, not just golfing (2). A great amount of force applied during any bending motion of the wrist can damage or irritate tendons in the elbow; done repetitively over time…this is a recipe for golfer’s elbow!
Baseball and other sports involving throwing an object with great force can also cause golfer’s elbow.
Other common causes include poor technique while lifting weights and repetitive stress during job-related activities. Any repetitive motion involving bending the wrist can cause golfer’s elbow if performed regularly.
Risk factors for developing golfer’s elbow include:
- Age (40 and older)
- Duration of activity
- Frequency of activity
- Weight (overweight or obese)
What Can I Do to Treat Golfer’s Elbow?
Thankfully, golfer’s elbow can be usually be treated without surgery. If mild, you can follow a standard PRICE protocol. The emphasis here is on rest. Stop any activity that causes pain or involves excessive wrist motion.
Another good treatment option is physical therapy (3). Gently stretching and strengthening the affected area can help to accelerate recovery and prevent future injuries. A brace may also help alleviate the symptoms of golfer’s elbow (4). A brace will help protect the area and prevent you from bending your elbow excessively by immobilizing your arm. Beware, though, too much immobilization might lead to other problems if you rely on it on the order of weeks or months at a time!
If the pain is severe or if the injury recurs, you should talk to your doctor. One treatment option is a steroid injection into the damaged tendon. This will immediately relieve pain and help you recover faster.
Surgery is also an option if other treatments don’t work. Doctors prefer not to operate if not necessary, as most injuries will resolve with rest and physical therapy (5). Procedures include open surgery or arthroscopic surgery. Most people undergoing surgery for golfer’s elbow will recover without issue (6).
How Do I Prevent Golfer’s Elbow?
If you’ve had golfer’s elbow or frequently engage in activities that involve bending your wrist, you may be wondering how to prevent future injuries. You can do several steps to reduce your risk of golfer’s elbow without giving up your active lifestyle (2).
As we mentioned earlier, physical therapy can help you recover faster from an injury. It can also help prevent future injuries. Consider adding strengthening exercises to your exercise routine. Focus on the forearm and building strength by lifting weights. Stretch the muscles as well to help keep them flexible and more tolerant to stress and impact.
Another good suggestion is to improve your technique. Often, bad form can put added stress on the body that results in injuries. This can be throwing, swinging a club or racquet, or lifting weights. If you’re unsure, you can work with a coach or personal trainer to perfect your technique.
Additionally, you can consider looking for newer sports equipment. Golf clubs are constantly improving, and a lighter set might reduce the pressure on your wrist. You don’t necessarily need the latest technology, but newer clubs might help. Likewise, if you play tennis, a good racket will help reduce the risk of injury.
Finally, and this goes without saying, but listen to your body. If you notice a minor or persistent ache in your elbow, take a break. Additional stress can worsen the injury, which increases the time it takes to recover.
If you’re at all worried about any injury, take it slow when you come back to your sport. Make sure you’re fully recovered before you dive back in. The last thing you want is to re-injure your elbow.
- Medial epicondylitis (golfer’s and baseball elbow). Johns Hopkins Medicine. https://www.hopkinsmedicine.org/health/conditions-and-diseases/medial-epicondylitis-golfers-and-baseball-elbow. Accessed 10/27/2020.
- Golfer’s elbow. Mayo Clinic. https://www.mayoclinic.org/diseases-conditions/golfers-elbow/symptoms-causes/syc-20372868. Accessed 10/27/2020.
- Amin NH, Kumar NS, Schickendantz MK. Medial epicondylitis: evaluation and management. J Am Acad Orthop Surg. 2015;23(6):348-355. DOI: 10.5435/JAAOS-D-14-00145.
- Tschantz P, Meine J. [Medial epicondylitis. Etiology, diagnosis, therapeutic modalities]. Z Unfallchir Versicherungsmed. 1993;86(3):145-148.
- Ciccotti MC, Schwartz MA, Ciccotti MG. Diagnosis and treatment of medial epicondylitis of the elbow. Clin Sports Med. 2004;23(4):693-705. DOI: 10.1016/j.csm.2004.04.011.
- do Nascimento AT, Claudio GK. Arthroscopic surgical treatment of medial epicondylitis. J Shoulder Elbow Surg. 2017;26(12):2232-2235. DOI: 10.1016/j.jse.2017.08.019.