Golfers Elbow Overview
When hearing of elbow injuries from sports activities, most people think of the outside elbow pain called tennis elbow and not golfers elbow. There is another, less common form of elbow motion injury; it is Golfers Elbow. Characterized by pain from the bony prominence of the elbow and radiating along the inside of the joint, these elbow injuries can be mild or severe. While affecting different parts of the elbow, they have similar symptoms of pain, inflammation, weakness, and limitations. Further, repetitive motion is a leading cause for each. Medical researchers have linked Golfers elbow to swinging golf clubs, throwing baseballs, and lifting weights.
The medical name for Golfers Elbow is elbow tendonitis. Many common names exist including pitcher’s elbow. It is an inflammation of tendons, attached to an area in the inside bony prominence of the elbow called the medial epicondyle. It primarily occurs in the side of greatest use, such as the right side in right-handed people.
Causes of Golfer’s Elbow
Intensive use of the muscles and tendons in the forearm and elbow are the leading causes of elbow tendonitis. Repetition with forceful exertion strains the elbow tendons. Sports activities are among the activities, but so too are shoveling, lawn care, and gardening; repetition of ordinary movements can cause elbow pain and injury.
Some Important Numbers
- 10% or less – Cases of golfers elbow injuries that require surgery
- 10%-20% – The amount of elbow injuries in the U.S. diagnosed as elbow tendonitis.
- 35+ – The high-risk age range of men most likely to get golfers elbow
Most At Risk
Athletes and sports participants are among the high-risk categories for elbow injuries. However, since the causes include common tasks, the risk is widespread. Golfers are prone to the condition as are baseball pitchers. Certain occupations carry a significant risk including painters, assembly workers, and landscapers.
The main symptom of Golfers Elbow or elbow tendonitis is pain and tenderness at the spot where the tendons connect to the elbow bones. Called the medial epicondyle, the pain begins in this delicate elbow area. From the inside elbow, the pain spreads or radiates down the forearm into the wrist and hand. Some people feel numbing and tingling in the fingers. Frequently people complain of weakness in the hand, and greater pain when bending the wrist, making a fist, or twisting the forearm downward.
The symptoms can take the form of inflammation. In these cases, the body attempts to heal itself by sending cells to the area in response. These unique cells surround the area. Anti-inflammatory drugs can reduce pain and discomfort from inflammation. Physicians often prescribe rest and anti-inflammatory drugs followed by a course of physical therapy in more severe cases.
When the problem is not elbow tendonitis but damage to the collagen cells inside the tendons, then one needs a different approach. The treatment must aim to repair degeneration of the collagen inside the tendons, or tendonosis. When small tears occur in the tendon, the body sends fibroblasts. The result is a weakened tendon subject to further injury and more scar tissue build up. However, with continued use and strain, the healing does not occur and the scar tissue remains. Tendonosis requires intensive therapy and surgery may be needed to remove scar tissue build up.
The Road Back
Ice packs, anti-inflammatory drugs and rest are the first lines of golfers elbow treatment. Cortisone is effective in stubborn or extremely painful cases. Therapies include electrical stimulation, shock wave therapy, and traditional therapy to help relieve soreness and improve motion. Some actions adapt the activity to reduce future strain on the elbow and these include devices such as straps, tapes, and supports worn during activities.
Cases not resolved by conservative golfers elbow treatment such as rest, anti-inflammatory drugs, and therapy may eventually require surgery. Doctors consider various golfers elbow treatment options to repair damaged tendon tissues. These include debridement, removing damaged tissue, and releasing the tendon, or removing some layers of built up scar tissue and bone spurs.
Preventing Elbow Tendonitis and Elbow Injuries
Golfers Elbow Exercises – Warming Up, Stretching & Conditioning
The wrists and forearms have large muscles that attach to the elbow. Arm and shoulder exercise movements improve the strength of these muscles. One should add exercise movements for the wrist and forearm to regular routines for prevention as well as golfers elbow treatment. For repetitive motion sports, it is also important to have flexibility and a good range of motion. Before engaging in sports or exercise, one should warm-up and stretch the wrists, hands, and forearms.
Modifying Equipment And Routines
Grip is a factor in Golfers Elbow, the force used to hold a racquet or golf club affects muscles tied to the elbow. Research suggests over-gripping causes elbow problems and use of larger grips on clubs and racquets can reduce stress. Similarly, flexible shafts provide more power with less effort and absorb shocks. To avoid injury and the need for golfers elbow treatment, one must remember that practice counts. Training puts stress on joints just as in competition. One should not increase training drastically but raise it in small steps to peak levels. One must be sensitive to elbow pain. Working through pain can lead to additional or more serious injury.