What is Golfer’s Elbow?
Golfer’s elbow, also called medial epicondylitis, is a painful condition occurring from repeated muscle contractions in the forearm that leads to inflammation and microtears in the tendons that attach to the medial epicondyle. The medial epicondyle is the bony prominence that is felt on the inside of the elbow.
Golfer’s elbow and tennis elbow are similar, except that golfer’s elbow occurs on the inside of the elbow and tennis elbow occurs on the outside of the elbow. Both conditions are a type of tendonitis, which literally means “inflammation of the tendons”.
Signs and Symptoms of Golfer’s Elbow
Signs and symptoms of golfer’s elbow can include the following:
- Elbow pain that appears suddenly or gradually
- Achy pain to the inner side of the elbow during activity
- Elbow stiffness with decreased range of motion
- Pain that radiates to the inner forearm, hand or wrist
- Weakened grip
- Pain worsens with gripping objects
- Pain is exacerbated in the elbow when the wrist is flexed or bent forward toward the forearm
Causes of Golfer’s Elbow
Golfer’s elbow is usually caused by overuse of the forearm muscles and tendons that control wrist and finger movement, but may also be caused by direct trauma such as with a fall, car accident or work injury.
Golfer’s elbow is commonly seen in golfers; hence the name, especially when poor technique or unsuitable equipment is used when hitting the ball. Other common causes include any activity that requires repetitive motion of the forearm such as: painting, hammering, typing, raking, pitching sports, gardening, shovelling, fencing and playing golf.
Diagnosis of Golfer’s Elbow
Your doctor will review your medical history and perform a thorough physical examination of your elbow joint. Your physician may order an X-ray to rule out a fracture or arthritis as the cause of your pain. Occasionally, if the diagnosis is unclear, further tests such as MRI, ultrasonography and injection test may be ordered to confirm golfer’s elbow.
Treatment Options for Golfer’s Elbow
Conservative Treatment Options for Golfer’s Elbow
Your physician will recommend conservative treatment options to treat the symptoms associated with golfer’s elbow. These may include the following:
- Activity restrictions: Limit the use and rest your arm from activities that worsen symptoms.
- Orthotics: Splints or braces may be ordered to decrease stress on the injured tissues.
- Ice: Ice packs applied to the injury will help reduce swelling and pain. Ice should be applied over a towel to the affected area for 20 minutes, four times a day for a couple of days. Never place ice directly over the skin.
- Medications: Anti-inflammatory medications and/or steroid injections may be ordered to treat the pain and swelling.
- Occupational therapy: OT may be ordered for strengthening and stretching exercises to the forearm, once your symptoms have decreased.
- Pulsed ultrasound: This is a treatment used by therapists to break up scar tissue and increase blood flow to the injured tendons to promote healing.
- Professional instruction: Consulting a sports professional to assess and instruct in proper swing technique and appropriate equipment may be recommended to prevent recurrence.
Surgery for Golfer’s Elbow
If conservative treatment options fail to resolve the condition and symptoms persist for 6 -12 months, your surgeon may recommend surgery to treat golfer’s elbow. The goal of surgery is to remove the diseased tissue around the inner elbow, improve blood supply to the area to promote healing, and alleviate the symptoms.