Treating Golfer’s Elbow And How To Prevent It

Golfer’s elbow is a minor injury that involves the inside of the medial epicondyle. The injury is treatable and most of the time does not involve invasive surgery. Recovery is quick if acted on soon.

What Is Golfer’s Elbow?

The term “golfer’s elbow” sounds a lot worse than what it actually is. Recovery time is minimal but you might have to sacrifice a couple rounds of golf with the buddies. If you try to push through the pain, your elbow will continue to injure itself which may require invasive surgery.

The medical term for golfer’s elbow is medial epicondylitis. Don’t confuse this with lateral epicondylitis. Also called tennis elbow. Both have similar traits but golfer’s elbow impacts “the tendons of your forearm muscles that attach to the bony bump on the inside of your elbow (Source: Mayo Clinic)”. Tennis elbow impacts the outside of your elbow. Either way, the pain is not comfortable, and it can lead to a decrease in performance in any sport you play.

If you take the necessary treatments ahead of time, you will be able to preserve your elbow for any future rounds of golf.

Which Part Of The Elbow Is Being Impacted?

Picture Source: Crux Crush

As I mentioned earlier, golfer’s elbow impacts the medial epicondyle which is the inside tendon of your elbow. This tendon runs from the bottom of your hand to the bony part of your elbow called the humerus. There really isn’t anything funny when you hit this bone on something though. The pain is unbearable.

Golfer’s elbow is caused by the overuse of the medial epicondyle tendon. This area becomes a little inflamed and tender. Continuing to play on the golf course will put more strain on this tendon which can cause permanent damage. Shortly I will outline proper treatment and what you can do to prevent this injury in the future.

According to Medscape, some other activities that heavily use the medial epicondyle are “throwing sports, bowling, archery, weight lifting, and baseball”. This injury is not isolated to just golfers. Anyone over utilizing this tendon can be prone to medial epicondylitis.

Who Is Most Prone To This Injury?

If you are playing a sport that relies heavily on this tendon then you are prone to this injury. The age range where there is a much higher risk for golfer’s elbow is 40 and above. This range is when the body begins to lose its strength and the tendons in the body begin to deteriorate. With proper exercises, you can avoid this common injury and continue to play golf till you’re 100 years old.

The average range for golfer’s elbow is 19 to 40. In this age range it is common to see some of these injuries but not like how it is when you pass the 40 year old threshold. The younger golfers are still growing and their bodies are getting used to their newly developed swings. If you are taking the proper exercise procedures and being proactive you may never have to make a doctors appointment to look at your arm.

Symptoms Of Golfer’s Elbow

This injury can be a tricky one to diagnose. The pain can come on suddenly or it may take a couple of weeks to develop fully. It all depends on your playing frequency and how much damage you are doing during your swing. Your symptoms may be minor or severe depending on the injury. Here are some of the most common symptoms of golfer’s elbow you can look for.

  • Elbow Pain & Tenderness - Usually this pain is isolated to the inside of the elbow. The pain is a lot harsher when there is movement involved like swinging a golf club. Sometimes the pain can move to the inner side of the forearm. Flexing the wrist or any sudden movements can flare up the pain.
  • Stiff Elbow - If it hurts to make a fist or you feel a stiffness in your elbow this is a good sign that you might have golfer’s elbow. If any movements in your hand or arm cause pain it is a good indication that something isn’t right. An elbow should feel loose and flexible.
  • Weakness In Your Arm - Having a weak grip or a hard time lifting your arm is another good indicator. Any movement in your arm that you find a lot harder to do can indicate a pressing issue like golfer’s elbow.
  • Numbness Or Tingling In Your Fingers - These sensations may start in your elbow and then radiate to a couple of fingers in your hand. Usually the ring and pinky finger. It may feel a little foreign at first but it is definitely something you should get looked at by a doctor.

As I mentioned earlier, the pain of golfer’s elbow can come on gradually or suddenly depending on the severity. Each person’s body is different so the pain can vary from elbow to elbow. If you notice a lot of pain in your elbow while doing these activities it could be time to consult a doctor for further diagnosis.

  • Swinging your golf club
  • Throwing or trying to squeeze a ball
  • Shaking hands with someone else
  • Trying to open a door that has a doorknob
  • Lifting weights at the gym or doing anything strenuous with your arms
  • Flexing or tightening your wrists
  • Picking something up by closing your hands

When Should You See A Doctor?

This always seems to be a common question when it comes to golfer’s elbow symptoms. Unfortunately there isn’t any definitive answer for this question. If the pain is unbearable or you find it hard to function during the day then I would suggest consulting a doctor. Also if you notice these other traits of golfer’s elbow set up an appointment.

  • Your elbow is so inflamed, you can notice it just by looking at it. Also if you touch your elbow and it is really warm this is another red flag.
  • If you have a hard time moving your elbow but you also notice that you have a fever. A fever is a really bad symptom and should require treatment as soon as possible.
  • You can’t bend your arm at the elbow.
  • If there appears to be deformation in the elbow area.
  • It feels like there is a broken bone in your elbow.

If you are having a difficult time doing your day-to-day activities or the pain becomes unbearable you should consult your doctor for a diagnosis. It is better to nip this problem in the butt now, so it doesn’t get worse and then surgery is required. Surgery will have a longer recovery time for something that could be prevented a couple months ago. Save yourself the headache and go see a doctor.

What Causes Golfer’s Elbow?

The most common cause for medial epicondylitis is repeated stress to the tendon that connects the hand to the elbow via the medial epicondyle. To put it into an easier term. You get golfer’s elbow when you put repeated stress on the tendon that connects your hand to the elbow. This tendon controls everything from your fingers to your wrist movements.

Picture Source: Mayo Clinic

There are many factors that can contribute to golfer’s elbow. Most of the time it is because you are doing a motion incorrectly or putting a lot of strain on this tendon. Not warming up before a sport or improper movements will really strain this part of your body.

For golf it is very similar. Swinging a club incorrectly or taking a really powerful swing at the ball can really strain this tendon in your arm. Surprisingly, gripping the golf club incorrectly can also give you a bad case of golfer’s elbow. These incorrect mechanics can really take a toll on your body in the long run. Since this tendon is connected to your hands, an incorrect grip will throw your fluidity out of line and add that to a bad swinging motion, this can be a recipe for disaster.

With proper exercise and better mechanics you can defeat golfer’s elbow in its tracks. Luckily this injury is preventable with the proper training.

Risk Factors & Complications

Golfer’s elbow can happen to anyone. It usually doesn’t matter if you are young or old. This injury can impact anyone. You can be at a higher risk for golfer’s elbow if you are:

  • 40 years old or higher

  • Performing repetitive activities incorrectly for more than three times a day

  • Overweight and putting a lot of strain on your body

  • A smoker

Minimizing some of these factors above can make it almost impossible to get golfer’s elbow in the future. There are a couple complications that can happen if you leave this injury untreated. Treatment is usually simple and the injury can be resolved within a week. If left untreated though:

  • You will have chronic pain and inflammation in your elbow. Easy tasks will become a challenge and any movement in your arm will be decreased dramatically.

  • Common motions done with your arm will become limited. Your range of motion will decrease and it will be a lot harder to perform tasks.

  • Your elbow will begin to deform and bend around the injury. This is definitely not good when this starts to happen. This will require corrective surgery and be a lot more expensive.

Diagnosis

Diagnosis for golfer’s elbow is a lot easier than it might seem. All it involves is setting up an appointment with your primary care doctor. The doctor will perform a routine physical exam and apply pressure to your elbow. With pressure applied the doctor will ask you to make some routine movements to see if anything hurts. This will give the doctor a good indication whether there is something wrong or not.

On some rare occasions the doctor may perform an x-ray to rule out any fractures or broken bones. On very rare occasions the doctor may request a MRI if nothing is found with the physical or x-ray. 95% of the time, the physical exam will be able to diagnose golfer’s elbow.

How Should You Prepare For Your Appointment

I would suggest going to see your primary care physician first. I would avoid specialists or urgent care doctors until you were able to sit down with your primary care doctor. Your primary care may be able to fix the issue on the first visit. It may be something simple like taking Tylenol and icing your arm for the first week. If you do make an appointment here are some things you should write down to better help the doctor in their diagnosis.

  • Write down any symptoms you have been experiencing. You should list out when the symptoms began and how long they last for. This will give the doctor a good indication of what is happening.
  • If your doctor does not have a full medical record on file then I would suggest writing down some of your medical history to give to them. That way the doctor can look back on your history and see if this is something more pressing.
  • Jot down any sports you play which flare up your elbow. It can be anything physical that you do during the day. If you lift weights, move heavy boxes around, or play golf you should list it out for the doctor to look at.
  • If you have hurt your arm in the past it may be helpful to make note of this during your physical. The pain could be related to something that happened in the past.
  • Also if any questions come up during the time before your appointment make sure to write them down so you don’t forget them.

You should never be nervous to ask your doctor some questions. That will give you a better understanding of the injury as well as how to avoid the problem in the future. A patient should never feel anxious or pressured when they are at the doctor.

What Will Your Doctor Do In The Appointment?

For a normal appointment your doctor will perform a routine physical to rule out anything major happening. They will take your vital signs as well as ask you a couple questions to pinpoint the pain in your elbow. Luckily you will already have some questions written down to speed up the diagnosis process. Some other possible questions the doctor may ask you are as follows.

  • When did the pain first begin and how long has it been hurting you?
  • What type of movements increase the pain in your arm?
  • What type of strenuous activities do you perform during the week? Do any of the activities favor your arms?
  • On a scale of 1 to 10 how painful is it to move your arm?
  • Are you currently taking any medication for the pain?
  • Have you recently injured your arm or had any procedures done to it recently?

The evaluation process is usually harmless and just involves a lot of questions to get a good grasp on the whole situation.

Treatment & Expected Rehab

The treatment for golfer’s elbow is going to be less intense and may just require some simple treatment options to relieve the elbow pain. Starting treatment early is better than waiting a couple months to get it looked at. The longer you wait, the longer the tendon is going to be inflamed. You will end up doing more damage than what is expected. If you start early you will be back to playing golf or any other sport in no time. It’s just about taking it easy for a week or two. Below are some treatment options that may be prescribed by your doctor.

  • Get Some Rest - This is probably going to be the first piece of advice by your doctor. Resting your arm is going to give you the best chance at recovery. Taking a week or two to rest the arm will be the best course of action. Maybe take a rain check for this weekend's golf match. If you return to the sport and your arm still hurts you will end up doing more damage. Wait until you don’t feel any more pain.
  • Stock Up On Ice Packs - Ice & rest are going to be your two best friends during this recovery process. Resting the arm is a good starting point but applying ice to the injured area will alleviate the pain. I would suggest “applying ice to the injured arm 3 to 4 times a day for several days. Don’t leave ice on the arm for longer than 15-20 minutes” (Source: Mayo Clinic) because anything longer can be harmful. You should protect your skin by wrapping the ice pack in some sort of towel or blanket.
  • Take A Mild Pain Reliever - There are a lot of over the counter (OTC) pain relievers that will mask the pain during your recovery process. Only take this medicine if your doctor approves it. Some options are Advil, Motrin IB, Aleve, Tylenol.
  • Get A Brace For Your Arm - If the doctor thinks that the tendon is really injured he or she may prescribe a brace. It’ll most likely be a counterforce brace to relieve tension between the hand and elbow. The brace should only be temporary and you should be able to remove it after a couple of weeks depending on what the doctor says.
  • Strengthen Your Elbow With Stretches - Some kind of physical therapy may be prescribed to strengthen the overall muscles and tendons in your arm. It could be that you’re not stretching enough before a round of golf. The doctor may give you a list of exercises to do before your match. I will also outline some stretches at the bottom of this article.
  • Reduce Your Activities & Gradually Get Back Into It - For the first couple of weeks you should rest your arm until it feels comfortable again. Once everything feels ok it is then time to gradually get back into the swing of things. I wouldn’t go all out as soon as the arm feels better. This can cause an injury again and then you're back at square one.
  • Arm Injections - If all of the above treatments fail then the doctor may suggest doing a corticosteroid injection at the injured area. These usually aren’t a good option for long term care. It usually alleviates the pain for a couple months but it may get worse when everything wears off.

I would have to say that most people recover by resting, icing the area, and taking an over the counter pain medication. I can personally say that I have experienced golfer’s elbow in the past and those three things worked wonders. It just takes some good rest to get everything back to normal. If you have any questions or concerns about these treatments I would suggest talking to your doctor more. It never hurts to ask.

Prevention Options

Preventing medial epicondylitis is simple and just takes a couple minutes before a round of golf to get yourself situated. Making the muscles and tendons stronger with exercise and stretches is the easiest way to prevent this injury.

Some other prevention options are:

  • Making sure your golf swing is proper and the overall mechanics are correct. Swinging the golf club incorrectly usually irritates the muscles which can lead to golfer’s elbow. Maybe take an hour with a pro and see if they can get your swing back in line. It may seem like a hassle but your body will thank you.
  • Stretching before a long round of golf is the best thing you could do. I prefer to stretch before a round but I also stretch after 4 or 5 holes. This allows me to stay loose and consistent. When your muscles start to get tight, that is when injuries form.
  • Stopping what you’re doing when you begin to notice an uncomfortable pain. This isn’t a time when you have to be a macho man and push through the pain. If you start to feel some tenderness I would suggest stopping what you’re doing and don’t push yourself any further.

Exercises To Strengthen Your Elbow

Exercising the elbow will increase its strength and lower your chances of getting an injury. Performing both stretching & strengthening exercises is your best approach. The following is for information purposes and all exercises should be consulted with a doctor.

Stretching exercises should only be performed when the pain is no longer present. Stretching an injured tendon can cause a little bit of harm to it. So when your arm is pain free. That is when you should begin stretching exercises. Some common stretching exercises for your elbow and arm are below.

Stretching Exercises

  • Wrist Stretch or Wrist Flexor - This is going to be the best stretch you can do to strengthen the tendons that cause golfer’s elbow. Extend the arm so it is straight out in front of you. Take your other hand and pull your finger on the extended arm up until it begins to feel a little uncomfortable. Hold this position for 30 seconds and do this 4 to 5 times. Ideally you should try to do this exercise 2 to 3 times a day. I personally do it before a round of golf.
  • Wrist Flex And Extension - “Bend the wrist of the injured arm forward and back as far as it can go. Do 2 sets of 15 (Source: Summit Medical Group)”. This stretch will give you a wider range of motion in your wrists. It also feels really good.
  • Forearm Pronation - “Bend the elbow of your injured arm 90 degrees, keeping your elbow at your side. Turn your palm up and hold for 5 seconds. Then slowly turn your palm down and hold for 5 seconds. Make sure you keep your elbow at your side and bent 90 degrees while you do the exercise. Do 2 sets of 15 (Source: Summit Medical Group)”.

Strengthening Exercises

You should begin strengthening exercises after you do a couple sets of stretching exercises. The strengthening process can be harmful to the arm if done incorrectly. Always consult your doctor for proper exercising mechanics.

  • Strengthen Your Grip - To obtain a stronger grip in your hands, squeeze a squishy ball for 5 to 10 seconds. Do this a couple times a day and you will begin to notice a much stronger grip.
  • Wrist Flex With Weight - You may have seen a lot of people doing this exercise in the gym. Start with your arm resting flat on a smooth surface. Your palm should be facing upwards on the surface. Place a weight in your hand and try to curl it up without moving your arm. This should only isolate the hand and wrist area. This may take some practice but can be super beneficial in preventing golfer’s elbow.

Overall Outlook

I think it is safe to say that a recovery from golfer’s elbow is possible. Treatment is minor and recovery only takes a couple of weeks. It all depends on how willing you are to rest the injured arm. Some people may have jobs that require them to use their arms more frequently. If that is the case then try to take it easy at work and stock up on the Tylenol.

A full recovery is highly achievable. Most of the time you can stop the injury by stopping what you are doing that is causing you pain. The tenderness may even diminish within a day or two of stopping. If symptoms don’t clear up then you should go see a doctor. I am not a medical professional and your doctor will be able to give you a more in depth diagnosis then what I can give you.

Rest, ice, and OTC medications are going to be your bread and butter. If you put off treatment for a while the injury will get a lot worse and then surgery may be involved to correct the pain. Your recovery time may be tripled and the pain will be a lot worse. Save yourself the headaches and get it looked at ASAP.

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