Golfer’s Elbow vs. Tennis Elbow: Understanding and Managing These Common Elbow Injuries
Published on June 7, 2024
elbow pain

Elbow pain is a common complaint among athletes and non-athletes alike, often manifesting as either golfer’s elbow or tennis elbow. Despite their names, these conditions are not limited to those who play golf or tennis. They are forms of tendinopathy that result from overuse of the muscles and tendons of the forearm, leading to pain and tenderness around the elbow joint. Here’s what you need to know about these two elbow injuries, how they differ, and how physiotherapy can help manage and treat them.

What is Golfer’s Elbow?

Golfer’s elbow, or medial epicondylitis, occurs when there is damage to the muscles and tendons that attach to the medial epicondyle on the inside of the elbow. This condition is typically caused by overusing the muscles in the forearm that allow you to grip, rotate your arm, and flex your wrist. Repetitive clenching or flexing of the wrist can lead to small tears in the tendon.

Symptoms of Golfer’s Elbow:

  • Pain and tenderness on the inside of the elbow, sometimes extending along the inner side of the forearm.
  • Pain may increase with certain movements like swinging a golf club or racket, shaking hands, or turning a doorknob.
  • Stiffness in the elbow and weakness in the hands or wrists are also common.

What is Tennis Elbow?

Tennis elbow, or lateral epicondylitis, affects the tendons attached to the outer (lateral) side of the elbow, which are connected to the muscles that extend your wrist backward and straighten your fingers. It’s caused by repetitive strain and micro-tears in the tendon that occur from overuse.

Symptoms of Tennis Elbow:

  • Pain and tenderness on the outside of the elbow, which can radiate into the forearm and wrist.
  • Difficulty in performing tasks that involve lifting, gripping, or twisting.
  • A weakening of grip strength may also be noticeable.

Diagnosing Golfer’s Elbow and Tennis Elbow

Although these conditions can often be diagnosed based on symptoms and a physical examination, your physiotherapist may also recommend imaging tests such as an ultrasound or MRI to confirm the diagnosis and assess the severity of the tendinopathy.

Treatment and Management

Physiotherapy plays a crucial role in the treatment of both golfer’s elbow and tennis elbow. Treatment typically focuses on:

  • Rest and ice: Reducing activity that triggers the condition, and applying ice to reduce inflammation and pain.
  • Stretching and strengthening exercises: Specific exercises can help relieve tension and strengthen the muscles around the elbow to prevent recurrence.
  • Technique correction: This is especially important for athletes. Modifying techniques to avoid the movements that trigger the symptoms can help mitigate stress on the elbow.
  • Equipment check: In cases related to sports, checking equipment such as golf clubs and tennis racquets to ensure they are appropriate for the individual’s use can help reduce strain.

Exercises to Consider

  1. For Golfer’s Elbow:
    • Wrist flexor stretch: Extend your arm in front of you with your palm up. Use the other hand to gently pull the fingers back toward your body. Hold for 15-30 seconds and repeat 2-3 times.
    • Wrist curls: Using a lightweight, rest your forearm on a table with the wrist hanging off the edge, palm up. Curl the weight as you keep your forearm still, then slowly lower.
  2. For Tennis Elbow:
    • Wrist extensor stretch: Extend your arm in front of you with your palm down. Use the other hand to gently pull the fingers toward your body. Hold for 15-30 seconds and repeat 2-3 times.
    • Wrist extensor curls: Similar to wrist curls but with the palm facing down. This strengthens the muscles on the top of the forearm.

Conclusion

While the symptoms of golfer’s elbow and tennis elbow are similar, they affect opposite sides of the elbow and forearm. Identifying the correct condition is crucial to an effective treatment plan. With proper management, including physiotherapy, most people recover fully from both types of elbow tendinopathy. Remember, it’s important to address any elbow pain early to prevent further deterioration. If you suspect you have either condition, consult a physiotherapist for a comprehensive evaluation and personalized treatment plan.

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