If certain motions set off sharp aches every time a person bends their arm or tries to pick up something, that patient may well have golfer’s elbow, also known as medial epicondylitis. Despite the name, the condition can afflict anyone, not just golfers. Fortunately, there are ways to treat and recover from this uncomfortable and restrictive condition.
Understanding Medial Epicondylitis
In this article:
- What Is Medial Epicondylitis or Golfer’s Elbow?
- Why Do People Get Golfer’s Elbow?
- Are Tennis Elbow and Golfer’s Elbow the Same Thing?
- Can Golfer’s Elbow Be Ignored?
- Treating Medial Epicondylitis
- Can Medial Epicondylitis Be Prevented?
- Safety Precautions
What Is Medial Epicondylitis or Golfer’s Elbow?
Golfer’s elbow affects the tendon running from the forearm to the inner elbow. Some people suffer just in their inner elbow, while others also experience it in their forearm and/or wrist. Usually, it’s experienced only when the patient exerts him or herself in a certain way. In other words, the sensation isn’t constant for most people that suffer golfer’s elbow. Instead, there are specific motions that many people with golfer’s elbow report as “setting off” unwelcome sensations.
An example of one of these motions is trying to pick up something with a hand that’s positioned palms-down. Opening a door or trying to shake hands is also difficult with the condition. For athletes with golfer’s elbow, trying to throw or even grasp a ball can be agonizing. Of course, actually playing golf or swinging a tennis racket also brings on soreness and sharp twinges, as this motion is what the condition is named after.
The condition usually limits range-of-motion for the arm and elbow. Much of that limitation comes from stiffness brought on by golfer’s elbow. An individuals strength is often a factor in how far someone with medial epicondylitis is able to move his or her arm in various directions.
Another hallmark of golfer’s elbow is occasional numbness. Additionally, the little and ring fingers may experience a tingling sensation as a side effect.
Why Do People Get Golfer’s Elbow?
Certain sports rely heavily on the inner tendon of the forearm. That tendon can be damaged by a sudden movement or by being forced to bear an extra-heavy burden. Other motions associated with medial epicondylitis include:
Swinging an ax or chainsaw, carrying luggage lifting weights, throwing a javelin, pitching a ball, and performing specific tennis serves.
Golfer’s elbow may come from performing these moves repetitively over the course of time. Conversely, simply doing any of them once with too much force can also damage the tendon. People who have underdeveloped wrists and shoulders are also at risk of medial epicondylitis for everyday activities.
Are Tennis Elbow and Golfer’s Elbow the Same Thing?
Golfer’s elbow does have a few synonyms, but tennis elbow is not one of them. Tennis Elbow is a different condition. Along with its medical name — medial epicondylitis — golfer’s elbow is also known as suitcase elbow, baseball elbow, and even “forehand tennis elbow,” and it’s easy to see why. All of these endeavors require the same arm motion over and over again. They also call for moving the forearm with sudden force.
Yet, the classic “tennis elbow” (as opposed to “forearm tennis elbow”) is a different injury. Tennis elbow affects the outer part of one’s elbow and forearm. It’s theoretically possible to have both conditions. However, most people are at risk of straining either kind tendon from different actions, rather than both simultaneously.
Can Golfer’s Elbow Be Ignored?
People experiencing inner elbow and forearm problems rarely need to run to the emergency room at the first twinge. But, ignoring golfer’s elbow altogether can have lasting repercussions. Range-of-motion issues could become permanent. So can chronic discomfort. Some people with untreated medial epicondylitis even develop a permanent bend in the affected elbow.
Treating Medial Epicondylitis
There’s rarely need for surgery in the case of golfer’s elbow, unless it continues for a year or so. Conservative treatments are generally preferred.
Consider adding supplements that encourage bone and joint strength. Topical pain-relieving creams can also help. Doctors additionally recommend treatments that reduce swelling. These include regular applications of ice packs and OTC anti-inflammatory medication.
Physical therapy and occupational therapy components can both be helpful. Occupational therapy teaches medial epicondylitis patients how to lift and hold things with minimal discomfort. Traditional physical therapy is also an integral part of the healing process. Lengthening and strengthening the tendon during physical therapy reduces irritation to the afflicted area.
The patient’s medical team may also recommend a brace for some activities. Bracing prevents some of the motions that cause discomfort. It also reduces the risk of further injury. In addition, patients can learn how to wrap their affected elbow with bandages in such a way as to prevent tendon strain.
As the stiffness and discomfort of medial epicondylitis recedes, doctors and/or physical therapists clear patients to resume more activity. Most patients find that, if they strictly follow treatment protocols, they can gradually take up their previous activities, including sports like golf.
Can Medial Epicondylitis Be Prevented?
Anyone who participates in sports that require swinging and pitching should act defensively. The same is true of people who perform a great deal of physical labor. Sensible practices reduce the risk of medial epicondylitis. Obviously, anyone who has already suffered from at least one bout of the condition can also benefit from preventive measures.
Work with a coach or occupational therapist if you regularly practice any actions that use inner arm tendons. Whether it’s a golf swing, a free weight lift, or a carpentry move, simple mistakes like hunching your back or locking your knees can have a negative impact on your various tendons. An occupational therapist can also demonstrate lifting techniques.
Warming up joints and tendons is also important. Before a game or practice, walk for several minutes, while swinging both arms. Then devote a few minutes to stretching the legs, arms, and back.
For people about to partake in a chore or an activity they don’t normally do, building up strength decreases the risk of injuries like medial epicondylitis. Squeeze a tennis ball or lift light weights to build up forearm and wrist strength.
Finally, don’t skimp on equipment! Visit a high-quality supplier for whatever tools needed, from tennis rackets to chainsaws. The experts there can advise their customers on the best equipment for their activity and their build.
Some people may feel pain in their elbow but don’t think much of it. This test from Physiotutors may help them know if they have golfer’s elbow. Watch the video below:
Medial epicondylitis doesn’t have to mean the end of an enjoyable pursuit like golfing. Nor do people need to give up tasks that make them feel independent. But it often takes patience to get through the recovery process. Focusing on stretching and building strength while slowly easing back into vigorous activities can help. So can eating foods and taking supplements that build up collagen and provide joint relief.
Keep on reading Dr. Seeds Health for more information on medial epicondylitis as well as other medical conditions.