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A Detailed Guide to Preventing and Treating Golfer’s Elbow

Any time you repeat the same motion over and over, you put yourself at risk for an overuse injury. When you play golf, swinging the club could cause golfer’s elbow. And this injury doesn’t just happen in golfers. You could develop the same condition if you’re a baseball pitcher, javelin thrower, bowler, weight lifter or tennis player, according to the National Institutes of Health (NIH).

Anuj Netto, MD, a hand and arm surgeon at Banner Health in Arizona, said, “Golfer’s elbow is essentially the same condition as tennis elbow, except that the injury occurs on the inside of the elbow as opposed to the outside of the elbow. Unlike tennis elbow, golfer’s elbow is not very common. I see many patients with tennis elbow in my practice, but I rarely see individuals afflicted with golfer’s elbow.” 

Here’s what to know about this condition, which is also called medial epicondylitis.

What causes golfer’s elbow?

This condition occurs when you injure the tendons that bend your wrist toward your palm, usually by excessive force, such as when you’re swinging a golf club, pitching a baseball or serving in tennis. You could also develop it from carrying a suitcase, using a chain saw, chopping wood, jobs that involve heavy lifting, jobs that expose you to vibration, or a traumatic injury such as a blow to the elbow.

It’s equally common in men and women, and most people who get it are in their 30s to 60s. You’re more likely to have it in your dominant arm. 

What are the symptoms of golfer’s elbow?

You’ll probably notice discomfort or pain on the inside of your elbow that gets worse when you curl your arm. The pain may run down from your elbow to your wrist, usually on the side toward your pinky finger. Your elbow may feel stiff and hurt when you make a fist. Generally, it will feel uncomfortable to use your arm. You may notice swelling or warmth. And you might have some numbness or tingling in your fingers. Symptoms could develop over time or strike all at once. 

Other conditions can have similar symptoms, so you’ll want to see your doctor for a diagnosis. Individuals who develop golfer’s elbow at work often can also develop carpal tunnel syndrome, tennis elbow or rotator cuff tendonitis.

How can you prevent golfer’s elbow?

You’ll want to take steps to avoid this condition since it can make everyday activities difficult and keep you from working or enjoying your sport. 

  • A strong forearm can help protect your elbow—squeeze a ball or lift light weights to build strength. Strengthening your shoulders and wrists can also help.
  • Before you play your sport, warm up and stretch.
  • Make sure you’re using proper form during your sport.

How is golfer’s elbow diagnosed?

Your doctor can usually diagnose it from your history and a medical exam. They may ask you to rest your arm on a table, palm up, and push your hand against resistance. With golfer’s elbow, you’ll usually feel pain on the inside of your elbow when you try to raise your hand this way.

How is golfer’s elbow treated?  

If you have this condition, your doctor may recommend:

  • Rest, so your elbow can heal. You’ll need to take a break from the activity that caused it until you recover, probably for six to 12 weeks.
  • Over-the-counter pain relievers such as ibuprofen or acetaminophen.
  • Ice, which can reduce inflammation.
  • Therapy to work on strengthening exercises for the muscles in your arm.
  • A brace to keep your elbow from moving while you recover

With those methods, most people fully heal. If not, your doctor may recommend steroid injections. In rare cases, if you don’t recover within about six months, you may want to consider surgery.

The bottom line

Golfer’s elbow is an injury you could develop from sports or your job, though it’s not very common. If it strikes, you can usually recover with rest, over-the-counter pain medication, ice and strength training. If you would like to connect with an orthopedic expert to learn more about protecting and healing your joints, reach out to Banner Health.

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