What is golfer’s elbow?
Golfer’s elbow, technically known as medial epicondylitis, is a condition causing pain in the inside of the elbow on the bony bump. The pain, which extends to the inner part of the elbow and forearm, is a result of small tears and subsequent inflammation in the tendons that are part of the muscles used to flex or bend the wrist toward the palm. The condition worsens with repeated use of these muscles over time.
Golfer’s elbow, which is not restricted to golfers, is similar to tennis elbow (which occurs on the outside of the elbow). In fact, tennis players and others who get tennis elbow are also susceptible to suffering from golfer’s elbow. Nearly 30 percent of those in jobs that entail aggravating repetitive hand and wrist gripping or twisting movements are plagued by golf and tennis elbow.
Golfer’s elbow usually affects those between age 35 to 50 but can actually occur at any age.
What are the risk factors?
Golfer’s elbow is usually a repetitive stress injury, often caused by overuse. Activities that require clenching or gripping of the hands, wrist and fingers, or repeated twisting of the wrists are the main risk factors. This is especially true when the activity requires the hand to be bent up or down. Risk factors include:
- Racquet sports
- Baseball (Golfer’s elbow is also known as “thrower’s elbow” or “little league elbow”)
- Weight training
The condition can also strike:
- Computer users
- Plumbers, painters, construction workers
- Assembly line workers
- Butchers and cooks
Other risk factors include:
- Aging (degeneration of the tendons)
- Being overweight
- Improper sports technique
- Poor ergonomics
- Other conditions (less common, but an example is rheumatoid arthritis)
What are the symptoms?
Golfer’s elbow symptoms may slowly develop over time; however, symptoms can also come on suddenly, particularly if the condition is caused by injury. Symptoms include:
- Pain In the elbow and extending along the arm and to the wrist and hand, especially when flexing the wrist or shaking hands
- Weakness in forearm and wrist, causing a weak grip
- Elbow stiffness and loss of elbow mobility
- Tingling or numbness originating in the elbow and extending to the ring and pinky fingers
How is the diagnosis made?
The diagnosis of golfer’s elbow is usually made via a doctor’s evaluation of the patient’s symptoms, medical history and a physical exam. The doctor may apply pressure to the elbow or test elbow function, asking the patient to move the elbow, hand, wrist or fingers in a particular fashion. Often, golfer’s elbow can be self-diagnosed.
In order to rule out other causes of golfer’s elbow, the doctor may prescribe X-rays; magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) is more rarely indicated.
The X-rays mostly help the doctor rule out other problems with the elbow joint. X-rays may show if there are calcium deposits on the medial epicondyle (the “funny bone,” located on the humerus) at the connection to the flexor tendon.
What is the treatment?
Conservative treatment for golfer’s elbow is usually highly effective. Steps to take include:
- Rest from the activity that causes the condition
- Icing of the affected area
- Over-the-counter pain relievers
- Stretching and strengthening exercises
- Use of a supportive brace
- Gradual return to activities
While conservative measures usually relieve pain and other symptoms, if the tendon is severely damaged or the symptoms are chronic (6 to 12 months), surgery may be recommended (although infrequently necessary). Left untreated, golfer’s elbow can lead to chronic elbow pain and permanent grip weakness.
Is the condition reversible?
The initial treatment of rest from the aggravating activity is key. While this may create hardships, particularly interrupting or stopping jobs and sports, the condition will not resolve without sufficient rest. The continuing use of the affected elbow and arm risks escalation to a chronic condition, which is much more difficult to treat. To that end, it is important to evaluate the activities that require repetitive motion that are likely cause of golfer’s elbow so that they can be adjusted.
In addition, it is important not to ignore symptoms. If they are present, and self-help measures don’t provide a cure, a person should see a doctor.
At Nova Spine & Pain Centers, we are able to provide effective symptom relief of conditions such as golfer’s elbow. When other conservative treatments are ineffective, we offer helpful evaluation and noninvasive solutions such as steroid injections.