Golfer’s Elbow vs Tennis Elbow
Golfer’s elbow, or medial epicondylitis, is the strain or damage to the muscles and tendons surrounding the elbow. It can also be referred to as “climber’s elbow”. Golfer’s elbow specifically refers to pain or damage felt on the inside of the elbow. The main cause is repetitive or intense usage, and any movement that strains the inside of the forearm can cause golfer’s elbow. Pain or damage that occurs on the outside of the elbow is called tennis elbow, and while these two conditions occur in different areas of the elbow, they are treated in exactly the same way.
What Causes Golfer’s Elbow?
- One-time direct injury, like falling on the elbow
- Ill-fitting sports equipment, like golf clubs or tennis rackets
- Lack of general fitness or proper conditioning
The most important thing to remember is that golfer’s elbow is typically an overuse injury. Avoid straining the elbow further by ceasing the activity that caused the injury. If you haven’t done an activity (like golfing or rock-climbing) in some time, take it easy and go slowly. Your elbow needs time to regain strength and conditioning.
Signs and Symptoms of Golfer’s Elbow
Golfer’s elbow commonly begins with a mild strain, with pain being felt on the inside of the upper forearm. Golfer’s elbow can cause pain anywhere from the wrist to the elbow joint itself. As the pain gets worse or progresses further along the forearm, symptoms advance to weakness and stiffness. Movement restriction is common as the pain increases, and you may even experience tingling or numbness.
Treating Golfer’s Elbow
The most important first step is to stop overusing the elbow. Avoid the activity that caused the pain in the first place, and make steps to avoid any movement that continue to compromise the joint. Because golfer’s elbow is a soft-tissue injury involving muscles and tendons, the following steps (R.I.C.E.R) should be taken:
If the R.I.C.E.R. regimen is followed within the first 48-72 hours, the injury is much more likely to heal faster and without further complication. Once ice has been applied on and off again for three days or so, heat and massage should be used to prevent scar tissue and to speed up the healing process.
When most of the pain has been reduced or removed entirely, the elbow joint, tendons, and muscles should be stretched and rehabilitated to regain their former strength. Your elbow has been compromised, and it needs to be restored to proper conditioning. If pain or stiffness lasts longer than a couple of weeks, it may be time to consider physical therapy.
Golfer’s Elbow Prevention
- Listen to your body. Golfer’s elbow is an overuse injury, meaning that at some point pain was produced in the elbow, and the activity was continued anyway. The science of how muscles are formed and are maintained is still being researched, but we do know that if a muscle is not allowed to heal, the injury or strain will continue to get worse. When you feel strain that is intense or sharp, stop!
- Strengthen and condition. Your elbow works because of an intricate network of tendons and muscles. When those parts of your body haven’t been properly stretched or strengthened, they are more prone to strain. Make sure if it’s a new activity, or one you haven’t done in some time, that you take it slowly and carefully. It takes time to properly condition muscles, joints, and tendons!
- Rest, therapy, and modifications. If golfer’s elbow is a recurring source of pain for you, consider bracing and strapping, modifying or replacing sports equipment, taking extended rests, or going to physical therapy. There may be another injury co-occurring, making it difficult for the elbow to truly heal. Our bodies are made up of a network of interconnected muscles, and every area of the body is affected with an injury–even just on the elbow!
If you’re having difficulty healing, or you feel that the injury is getting worse, it’s probably time to consult a physical therapist or doctor. Repeated or prolonged injuries can produce scar tissue, making it ten times more difficult to heal the next time. By resting and treating the injury, you are respecting your body and preventing a worse injury.
Understanding Golfer’s Elbow in Portland OR and Vancouver WA
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