A common misconception about tennis elbow and golfer’s elbow is that only people who play the namesake sport develop either condition. In fact, most people who suffer tennis elbow or golfer’s elbow have never actually played either sport. The reality is that nearly everyone who works with their hands is susceptible to tennis or golfer’s elbow because both are caused by overuse or trauma.
Tennis elbow and golfer’s elbow are forms of epicondylitis, an inflammation of tendons that attach to the elbow. The two share similar causes and symptoms, yet they are different conditions.
What Is Tennis Elbow?
Tennis elbow is when you experience pain on the outside of your elbow (lateral epicondylitis). It is caused by the overuse of the wrist extensors — the muscles on the back of your forearm that facilitate the proper range of motion and function of your wrist. Any activity or movement (i.e., knitting, gardening, baseball, etc.) that constantly uses the wrist extensor muscles can lead to tennis elbow.
If you have tennis elbow, you will likely feel a tenderness or pain on the outside of your elbow that may travel to the hand and weaken your grip. Making a fist or extending your fingers can often trigger the pain and discomfort.
What Is Golfer’s Elbow?
Golfer’s elbow is when you experience pain on the inside of your elbow (medial epicondylitis). It is caused by the overuse of the wrist flexors — the muscles on the front of your forearm that help maintain full wrist strength and range of motion. Any repetitive motion (i.e., painting, shoveling, bowling, gripping tools, etc.) that flexes the wrist can lead to golfer’s elbow.
If you have golfer’s elbow, you will likely feel numbness or pain on your inner elbow that can lead to a weakened grip and numbness down to the fingers. Clenching your fist can be extremely painful.
What Are the Long-Term Effects of Tennis Elbow and Golfer’s Elbow?
If tennis and golfer’s elbow is left untreated, the condition naturally worsens over time. The consequences of not treating tennis elbow are more than just pain and discomfort — you could lose full range of motion in your elbow. At this stage, an orthopedic surgeon may recommend surgery to restore overall function.
If symptoms of golfer’s elbow go untreated, you may develop chronic pain, a reduced range of motion or a weakened grip. It’s recommended that you see a doctor if your pain is persistent or excruciating.
How Are Tennis Elbow and Golfer’s Elbow Treated?
The most common forms of treatment recommended by orthopedic specialists are wrist strengthening exercises, physical therapy and rest. This includes simple stretches, including extensions or flexions, to help relieve pain and strengthen the tendons.
If at-home remedies and physical therapy exercises aren’t enough, your doctor may suggest other treatments in addition to your wrist exercises.
- A wrist splint or brace can help minimize strain and stabilize the arm
- Anti-inflammatory medications can reduce pain and inflammation
- Platelet-rich plasma (PRP) injections can accelerate healing and shorten recovery time
- Cortisone injections are typically only used in more severe cases to address symptoms
- Surgery may be necessary if symptoms do not respond to other treatments
Are Tennis Elbow and Golfer’s Elbow Preventable?
While it’s nearly impossible to avoid all activities that involve flexing or gripping, being aware of the ones that inflict repetitive strain on the arm or wrist is the first step to preventing tennis or golfer’s elbow. If you experience pain in the elbow after playing sports or gardening, try to limit the time you spend performing those activities in the future. Always apply ice afterwards and give yourself ample time to rest and recover.
See An Orthopedic Surgeon for Tennis Elbow or Golfer’s Elbow
If you have been experiencing symptoms of tennis or golfer’s elbow, it’s time to stop living in pain and seek treatment. Our team of orthopedic surgeons and neurosurgeons at AllSpine Laser and Surgery Center can pinpoint the cause of your pain and walk you through treatment options.
Athletes and residents of Atlanta trust AllSpine to alleviate their tennis elbow or golfer’s elbow symptoms so they can get back to their lives and resume the activities they enjoy.
Schedule an appointment at one of our five locations in Atlanta by giving us a call at (770) 997-0600.