Golfer's elbow

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What is a golfer's elbow?

Golfer's elbow is inflammation in the tendons that connect the forearm to the elbow. This causes pain inside the elbow which may radiate towards the forearm. It usually gets better with rest. The medical term for golfer's elbow is medial epicondylitis.

 

A golfer's elbow is less common than a tennis elbow. Although both involve inflammation of tendons around the elbow, the difference is golfer's elbow involves tendon inflammation on the inside of the elbow. 

 

What causes the golfer's elbow?

A golfer's elbow is caused by overusing the muscles in your forearm. Repetitive flexing, gripping, or swinging can cause strain and tiny tears in the tendons. Activities that lead to golfer's elbow include racket sports, especially if you are not using the proper technique and correct equipment.

 

Other exercises, like weight training, may overwork your elbow's tendons and muscles if you incorrectly lift the weight. Repetitive movements involving gripping and flexing the elbow increase the risk of getting a golfer's elbow. The more frequently you use the tendon, the higher the chance of wear and tear.

 

Symptoms of golfer's elbow

The severity of symptoms varies significantly from patient to patient. Some patients' symptoms are not constant and may come and go. Symptoms of a golfer’s elbow may include: 

  • Pain on the inner part of your elbow

  • Weak grip strength

  • Pain at night

  • Stiff elbow joint

The symptoms worsen with forearm activity. A golfer's elbow typically affects your dominant hand where the repetitive movement occurs.

 

When should I seek medical help?

You should see your doctor if you experience the following:

  • Severe pain, swelling and bruising around the elbow

  • Unable to move your elbow normally

  • Elbow pain does not improve after home care

  • Pain that occurs even when you are resting your arm

  • Increasing redness, swelling or pain in the injured area

 

Diagnosis

To diagnose golfer's elbow, your doctor will take your case history and past medical history into account. Then they will perform a physical examination on your elbow and check to see if there is any tenderness or deformity. They will also measure the range of motion of your elbow and test your arm strength. 

 

Doctors will perform the specific test for the golfer's elbow as well. You will be asked to flex actively and pronate your wrist and forearm while your doctor resists this motion and check whether this motion triggers pain. If it does, there is a high chance of a golfer's elbow. Your doctor may also examine your wrist, neck, and shoulder to determine if they cause your elbow pain.

 

Other tests which may help your doctor confirm your diagnosis include ultrasounds or MRI,  which can create better images of soft tissues and reveal small tears or stretched ligaments. They can also show accumulation of fluid or inflammation in the elbow.

 

Treatment

The goal of treatment is to reduce pain and restore function. Using RICE protocol and other self-care methods can help you recover faster: 

  • RICE: Rest. Rest the injured elbow for a few days. Restrict all activities that cause pain in the elbow. 

  • Ice packs: Apply ice bags over the sprained elbow for 15-20 minutes every 2-3 hours.

  • Compression: An elastic compression bandage can wrap and support the elbow to reduce swelling. 

  • Elevation: Keep your sprained elbow elevated. Place a pillow under your arm to elevate your elbow. 

Other non-surgical treatment includes: 

  • Immobilization: A splint can help to stabilise the elbow joint.

  • Medications: Simple painkillers like paracetamol can help control pain. Non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs like aspirin, ibuprofen and naproxen can help reduce pain and swelling caused by inflammation.

  • Physical therapy: Strengthen your forearm muscles with exercises.

  • Surgery: Elbow sprains do not require surgery unless severe damage to the elbow or a complete ligament tear.

 

Prevention of tennis elbow

Here are some examples of ways to prevent a golfer’s elbow:

  • Exercise regularly to improve muscle strength.

  • Using proper technique and using the right gear size during exercises, such as the right grip size for a tennis or golf racket, can help avoid sports injuries.

  • Always warm up and stretch your muscles before exercising.