By Helene Mitchell, Physical Therapist Assistant
Most people have heard of "Tennis Elbow" (lateral epicondylitis) which affects the outside of the elbow, but have you ever heard of "Golfer's Elbow" (medial epicondylitis)? It is similar to tennis elbow but it affects the inside of the elbow.
What is Golfer's Elbow?
Golfer's elbow occurs when there is damage to the muscles, tendons and ligaments around the elbow joint and forearm. Small tears, called micro tears, form in the tendons and muscles which control movement of the wrist and forearm. They cause inflammation, pain and restriction of movement. These micro tears eventually lead to the formation of scar tissue and calcium deposits. If untreated, the scar tissue and calcium deposits can put so much pressure on the muscles and nerves that they cut off the blood flow and pinch the nerves which control the muscles of the wrist and forearm.
What causes Golfer's Elbow?
The most common cause of golfer's elbow is overuse. Any repetitive action which places prolonged strain on the forearm muscles, along with inadequate rest, will strain and overwork those muscles. Other causes of golfer's elbow include direct injury, such as a bump or fall on the elbow, poor technique when using golf clubs, tennis racquets, work tools etc.
Signs and Symptoms
Pain on the inside of the upper forearm is the most obvious symptom of golfer's elbow. Weakness, stiffness, tingling, numbness and general restriction of movement are also common symptoms.
Preventing Golfer's Elbow
Preventative techniques include bracing and strapping, modifying equipment, taking extended rests and even learning new routines for repetitive activities. However, the 3 most important preventative measures include:
1. Warm up to prepare muscles and tendons for activities.
2. Stretch to keep muscles and tendons flexible to prevent strain or sprain injuries.
3. Strengthen and condition the forearm muscles and wrist.
Treating Golfer's Elbow
Golfer's elbow is a soft tissue injury of the muscles and tendons around the elbow joint and should therefore be treated like any other soft tissue injury. Immediately following an injury or onset of pain, the R.I.C.E.R. regime should be used. This involves Rest, Ice, Compression, Elevation, and Referral to an appropriate professional for accurate diagnosis.
The R.I.C.E.R. regime must be implemented for at least the first 48-72 hours in order to get the best chance of a full recovery.
The next phase following the first 48-72 hours includes the application of heat and massage for removing scar tissue and for speeding up the healing process.
Once most of the pain has been reduced, rehabilitative treatment begins to regain strength, power, endurance and flexibility of the injured muscles and tendons.
Here is a link to some sample exercises that can be used for Golfer's Elbow (as well as Tennis Elbow):