Golfer’s elbow is also called pitcher’s elbow or medial epicondylitis. It is not to be confused with tennis elbow, which is a different condition, although tennis players can get golfer’s elbow.
People who enjoy sports like bowling and baseball or work with their hands using tools like screwdrivers, wrenches and hammers are most prone to developing golfer’s elbow. It is caused by overworking the muscles in the forearm. Motions like gripping, swinging heavy objects or twisting the wrist often cause damage to the tendons attached to the forearm muscles. This is the source of the pain.
People with golfer’s elbow feel pain in the elbow, forearm and wrist. This causes the wrist and sometimes the hand to become weak. The elbow, arm and fingers may become so stiff that moving them is difficult and painful. The pain is worsened by doing the very movements that caused golfer’s elbow to develop in the first place. Sometimes people with golfer’s elbow have numbness in their arm or a tingling sensation as if the limb had gone to sleep or was “waking back up” after being asleep.
If the pain in unbearable, if the elbow looks deformed or if the person develops a fever, contact a doctor at once.
Golfer’s elbow, known medically as medial epicondylitis, occurs when the muscles and tendons near the elbow, which are responsible for controlling the wrist and fingers, become damaged. Usually this occurs as a result of repetitive, forceful wrist and finger motions such as those which occur when playing golf.
Usually, it is incorrect form which causes golfer’s elbow; swinging the golf club incorrectly or with excessive force strains the affected muscles and tendons. Racket sports can also lead to the condition, particularly if using a racket which is too small or too heavy.
Throwing sports, such as baseball, softball, football and javelin can all also lead to golfer’s elbow. It’s also common for the injury to occur in those who lift weights if they have improper technique and curl the wrists, as this can put excessive pressure on the muscles and tendons in the lower arms.
Certain vocations can also put people at risk of golfer’s elbow if they involve repeated bending and straightening of the wrist or elbow. Painting, chopping wood, hammering and even cooking and using a computer can lead to golfer’s elbow if performed regularly.
The best treatment for golfer’s elbow is rest and plenty of it. As soon as possible after the pain first starts, apply an ice pack to the painful area. Do not apply ice directly on the skin as that can cause a dangerous burn. Take the ice pack away after 15 or 20 minutes up to four times a day.
NSAID medications like ibuprofen or naproxen can help reduce swelling and pain. In some cases when NSAIDs do not help, patients may need a steroid injection into the elbow in order to get relief.
Using a wrist brace or brace for golfer’s elbow can help stabilize the tendon as it heals.
Use the arm gradually to get it back into condition. Some people may need physical therapy to safely get the arm back in use for work or for sport.
Golfer’s elbow can be prevented by adopting correct form when playing any high-risk sports. An instructor or physiotherapist may be able to advise on form which reduces the risk of injury. It’s also important to use correct equipment; ensure golf clubs and rackets are the right size and shape for comfortable play, and avoid lifting weights which are too heavy.
It may be possible to prevent golfer’s elbow by strengthening the muscles in the forearm. Simply squeezing a tennis ball can help with this process. Stretching the arms and wrists before doing any high-risk activity may also help to warm the muscles up and minimize the risk of injury.