If you are experiencing pain centring on the bony bump on the inside of your elbow, you may have a condition called golfer’s elbow. Sometimes the pain also spreads into the forearm. Although golfer’s elbow is less well-known and less common than tennis elbow, both are forms of tendinopathy and can be debilitating.
What is Golfer’s Elbow?
Also called medial epicondylitis, golfer’s elbow causes pain in the tendons that connect the elbow with the forearm. It is the result of damage in the form of small tears to the tendons on the inside of the elbow, whereas tennis elbow is due to tendon damage on the outside of the elbow. Both conditions are the result of overusing the muscles in the forearm, which are used for gripping, flexing and rotating your wrist and also for swinging a golf club (or even a tennis racket!) – hence the name golfer’s elbow. Repeated use of the arm sometimes means that the tendons don’t have a chance to heal and a vicious cycle of repeated tearing and pain is set up.
Who is at risk?
Making repetitive movements like gripping or flexing can cause tiny tears in the tendons that attach your forearm and your elbow. If you have a job – or play sport – that involves making the same motions with your hand, wrist or forearm over and over again, particularly if you apply force while you do it, you may be at risk of developing tennis elbow. This might include:
- Jobs like carpentry, painting and decorating, construction or plumbing. Gardeners and handymen may also develop the condition.
- Sports that involve hitting a ball with a racket, such as tennis or squash, or with a put, such as golf
- Sports that involve throwing, such as baseball or javelin.
Symptoms of golfer’s elbow
If you develop golfer’s elbow you may experience:
- Pain and tenderness on the inner side of your elbow and forearm particularly when you grip or make a fist. The pain may come on suddenly or develop gradually over time.
- Weakness in your hands and wrists.
- Stiffness in your elbow.
- Tightness, tingling or numbness in your ring finger or little finger as the nerve supplying feeling to this area is nearby.
How we diagnose golfer’s elbow
Diagnosing golfer’s elbow involves a physical examination during which we may apply pressure to your elbow or ask you to move your hands, wrist or elbow in particularly ways to assess the level of pain and stiffness you are experiencing. We may use diagnostic imaging – usually X-ray – to rule out a fracture or arthritis as the cause of your pain. An ultrasound scan is useful to confirm he diagnosis and estimate the severity.
Treatments for golfer’s elbow
In most cases, golfer’s elbow will get better by itself with rest and conservative treatment. Try taking paracetamol for the pain and ice packs to relieve swelling. An occasional anti-inflammatory could be helpful for pain relief, but don’t take them for a prolonged period as some inflammation is needed to promote blood flow to heal the area. A brace may help to reduce tendon and muscle strain while your arm is healing and a physiotherapist can recommend exercises to stretch and strengthen the tendons in your affected arm. After resting you should return to your normal activities gradually and, if the condition was the result of playing sport, we recommend working with a professional instructor to review and improve your technique. You can also do stretching and strengthening exercises to prevent a recurrence of the condition.
If the pain does not respond to conservative measures then treatment to improve blood flow and healing potential in the area is recommended. This is usually in the form of a procedure called ‘dry needling’ where a small needle is repeatedly introduced to the injured area under local anaesthetic and ultrasound guidance. An alternative treatment is shockwave treatment, which uses high intensity ultrasound waves to produce the same effect. Rarely, golfer’s elbow fails to respond to conservative treatment and in such cases you may be offered a to detach the tendon from the bone, remove the scar tissue, stimulate bleeding from the bone and reattach the tendon with a small non-metallic implant called a bone anchor.
How to prevent golfer’s elbow
If you think you may be suffering from golfer’s elbow, talk to us or a physiotherapist for advice on possible measures to prevent the condition becoming chronic, such as wearing a brace or doing arm exercises. In the workplace, an occupational therapist may be able to suggest alterations to your working procedures or environment to reduce your injury risk.
Orthopaedic Consultant & Surgeon | London
Thames Shoulder & Elbow are able to provide advice and support to anyone experiencing symptoms affecting the upper limbs (shoulder, upper arm, elbow, forearm and wrist).
Telephone: 020 376 15987
Hospital of St John and St Elizabeth, St John’s Wood – Directions
BMI The Syon Clinic, Brentford – Directions
HCA Chiswick Health Centre, Chiswick – Directions
West Middlesex University Hospital, Chelsea and Westminster Foundation Trust, Isleworth – Directions