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Golfer’s Elbow: It Doesn’t Just Happen To Golfers

Golfer’s Elbow, also known as medial epicondylitis, affects many different individuals: not just golfers…and not just athletes. Here’s what you need to know about causes, prevention and treatment of this common elbow injury.

Golfer’s Elbow – Medial Epicondylitis

Even when the golf season is over, that doesn’t mean we stop treating patients who suffer with golfer’s elbow. Many kinds of repetitive, forceful gripping, or twisting activities can damage the tendons at the elbow and lead to inflammation and pain. When the muscle tendons in the forearm that attach to the inside of the elbow joint (also known as the “funny bone” region) become inflamed, patients may experience soreness or pain during or after activity. While pain might build gradually and radiate down the arm (usually the dominant arm), it can become unbearable with certain movements.

But, it doesn’t just happen to golfers.

What Causes Golfer’s Elbow

We use our elbows every day, but we usually don’t think much about how the joint works…unless you’re experiencing pain.

Given the name, you’re right to guess that golfer’s elbow (medial epicondylitis) is a common golf injury. But as we mentioned, golfer’s elbow can happen to anyone from an acute injury or chronic irritation due to overuse. In fact, over 90% of cases are not sports related. Occupations involving activity that involves gripping can lead to painful, shooting sensations that travel down the forearm.

While the cause may vary from patient to patient, repetitive motions and cumulative stress are common factors for golfer’s elbow. Anything from throwing a baseball to holding a baby or simply texting with poor posture can lead to elbow pain. Other common occupations and sports that experience golfer’s elbow include:

  • Bowlers
  • Baseball Players
  • CrossFit Athletes
  • Weightlifters
  • Tennis
  • Construction
  • Plumbing
  • Carpentry
  • Other occupations with forceful and repetitive movements

Additionally, with the increased use of smartphones and laptops, many individuals have developed wrist and arm pain as a result of improper ergonomic positioning while using their device.

Age, mobility, strength, technique, frequency of motion and grip can all contribute to the symptoms of this condition. You could be at a higher risk if you are:

  • 40 years old or older
  • Performing repetitive activity two hours or more a day
  • Obese
  • A smoker

Difference Between Golfer’s Elbow and Tennis Elbow

Epicondylitis is a painful condition that can develop when the muscles and tendons that control flexing or extending your wrist and fingers become inflamed. Golfer’s elbow, or medial epicondylitis, is similar to Tennis Elbow, also known as lateral epicondylitis, but they are very different.

Both golfer’s elbow and tennis elbow involve pain in the tendons of the forearm. Golfer’s elbow is characterized by pain on the inside of the elbow. Tennis elbow is characterized by pain on the outside of the elbow.

Other symptoms include:

  • Pain and tenderness on the inside or outside of the elbow and affected area
  • Elbow stiffness
  • Numbness or tingling sensations that run down the arm into the fingers
  • Weakness in the affected arm, hand or wrist
  • Worsening of pain when the forearm is flexed (for example, when squeezing, gripping, or lifting something)

The easiest way to tell the difference between tennis elbow and golfer’s elbow is to pay attention to which wrist direction causes pain.

If you move your wrist towards your palm: Golfer’s Elbow.
If you move your wrist backward, away from the palm: Tennis Elbow.

Both conditions can impact many different activities of individuals and athletes. Your doctor or physical therapist can help you determine the exact cause of your elbow pain.

Treatment for Golfer’s Elbow at Twin Boro Physical Therapy

Epicondylitis is considered a soft-tissue injury, so the first thing is to reduce any repetitive activities until your symptoms improve. It’s important to focus on relieving pain and reducing inflammation while resting the affected area. Thankfully, this condition usually heals with simple treatment including rest and rehabilitation. Most people with golfer’s elbow do not require surgery which is only advised in serious cases or when non-operative treatments have proven insufficient.

Soft tissue mobilization (ex: massage) is an intervention one can do to increase blood flow to the area and help to mobilize scar tissue. Cross friction the area by rubbing the arm perpendicular to the muscle fibers, a couple of inches from the pain. Do this for about five minutes, a couple times a day.

For many, self-care measures are often enough to provide relief. For persistent pain that does not respond to at-home treatment, it’s important to seek help through physical therapy for additional treatment. The sooner a patient is able to begin an effective treatment plan, the faster they will experience recovery.

Preventing Golfer’s Elbow

Once your symptoms are gone, take care to help prevent golfer’s elbow in the future. You can take some steps to prevent overuse injuries like golfer’s elbow.

  • Fix your form and equipment. Often, one way to prevent golfer’s elbow is a simple change in technique (such as swing mechanics) or equipment (such as adjusting the grip). A session or two with a golf pro can be money well spent to prevent injury and improve performance.
  • Ease into it. Like other athletic injuries, doing too much, too soon can lead to golfer’s elbow, which can keep you off the course for weeks…or even months, at a time. Gradually build the volume and intensity of golf shots taken. Getting back on the golf course should progress from green, to chipping, and finally driving practice. Most go the other direction in the sequence, which increases the risk of injury.
  • Warm up before you begin. Also take the time to warm up properly, perform accessory strengthening exercises. Trunk rotation exercises are especially good to do as a general warm up for golf.
  • Strengthen muscles appropriately by going through the full range of motion of the joint being exercised. Weight used for the exercise will need to accommodate the weakest part of the movement pattern.
  • Listen to your body. Knowing when to rest is important in order to reduce the risk of overusing your elbow. If you notice pain or discomfort when doing an activity, take a break.

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Why Choose Twin Boro Physical Therapy

At Twin Boro Physical Therapy, our professional therapists provide individualized treatment and hands-on therapy to help you reduce elbow pain and speedup recovery. We also believe in providing in-depth patient education to help you prevent future injuries. Through ultrasound, soft tissue therapy, stretching, mobilization and strengthening, we will help you get on the road to recovery!

We have 27 convenient Twin Boro Physical Therapy locations throughout New Jersey. Each location uses our proprietary One2Four advanced physical therapy technique that helps us identify an individualized path for each patient. We’ll help you stop elbow pain and get back in the game in no time!

Read more about our One2Four approach >>

Winners of a Best in NJ Readers’ Choice in Physical Therapy recognition, Twin Boro has provided NJ residents with high quality physical therapy and rehab for close to 40 years! It’s our award-winning approach, proven results and reputation that sets us apart. By incorporating the One2Four program into each patient’s program, the latest and most reliable scientific research and techniques is incorporated into effective evidence-based practice, we deliver only the highest standard of care with the unique One2Four approach.

It’s no surprise that Twin Boro Physical Therapy has also been voted the best physical therapy practice in New Jersey by the readers of mycentraljersey.com.

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