What is Golfer’s Elbow? The Causes, Symptoms & Remedial Exercises

If you feel like you have or are suffering the symptoms of Golfers elbow, then this article should help to highlight some of the main causes and how you can treat this common issue.

So what is golfers’ elbow?

When the tendons that connect the wrist to the elbow, become damaged or tear, inflammation sets in. It can cause severe pain in the elbow around the boney bump on the inside of the arm. This is commonly known as golfer’s elbow (medically known as Medial Epicondylitis) and affects many players, irrespective of age or playing frequency.  The pain is most commonly felt when bending the wrist inwards towards the elbow.

Causes

Anything done in excess can prove to be harmful. If a particular action or activity is repeated to the point of overuse, the limb, muscle or tendons involved may breakdown. Gripping, flexing and rotating, especially if force is involved could lead to problems.

A better-known relative is Tennis Elbow which occurs on the outside of the arm. Any sport involving throwing, such as pitchers in baseball or javelin can present the same symptoms. Rock climbers exerting extreme pressure on the fingers, wrist, and forearms often experience tendinitis. Weight lifters are another category of athletes that are in danger of causing such damage due to the jerk action and bending of the wrist under a heavy load.

This ailment is however not confined to athletes and is more often prevalent amongst manual workers. Construction workers such as carpenters and plumbers using heavy hammers and tools requiring a strong grip and flexing of the wrist. The twisting action on a screwdriver, even painting, manual labor such as digging and racking can lead to this condition.

Golfers,  naturally, are at a high risk of contracting golfer’s elbow.

Symptoms

The symptoms of pain or discomfort will vary from person to person, as will the severity. Some may feel only mild discomfort and if not treated timeously could develop into a serious situation.

  • Pain in the elbow
  • Stiffness in the elbow
  • Pain spreading down the arm to the fingers, especially the ring finger and pinky
  • Tingling sensation in the fingers
  • Discomfort when griping and lifting
  • Weakness of grip
  • Pain when shaking hands
  • Discomfort making a fist or turning the hand into the elbow

Diagnosis

Your medical practitioner or physiotherapist could easily and simply diagnose this condition. A check on your medical history and recent activities would be the starting point. Applying pressure to the affected area and assessing the pain response would be another indicator.

Checking for any stiffness, the strength of grip and freedom of rotation of the forearm and wrist would be additional confirmation. If pain was severe or continues after treatment, an MRI might be called for or even surgery, but this is very rare.

Treatment

As with any injury or illness, the first thing to do is rest. Should symptoms persist it would be time to visit your doctor.

Any muscle or tendon trauma should immediately receive an ice pack. To speed up the healing process, the heat must be reduced as soon as possible. Over the counter pain killers and anti-inflammatories are useful.

A brace to support the elbow and apply pressure just below the bony bump is often recommended. Try to use this when pain is severe and you have to play. Do not become reliant on it.

Exercise to strengthen the muscles of the forearm and wrist is the best way to not only heal the present problem but to prevent it from recurring. The following exercises are prescribed to strengthen the muscles in the forearm and improve flexibility in the wrist:

  • Place the arm on a flat surface, palm up, and raise the hand while at the same time applying resistance with the other hand. Repeat 15 times.
  • Place the arm on a flat surface, palm down, and raise the hand again applying resistance with the other hand. Repeat 15 times.
  • Place the arm on a flat surface with the wrist overlapping, palm down, and holding a lightweight raise and lower the hand 15 times.
  • Place the arm on a flat surface with the wrist overlapping, palm up, and holding a lightweight raise and lower the hand 15 times.
  • Stretch the arm out straight, palm up, and with the other hand pull the fingers back. Hold in this position for a count of 5, release and repeat 15 times.

Another useful exercise that can be used anywhere at any time is to have a soft sponge ball or tennis ball and to squeeze. This is a convenient way to strengthen both the grip and the muscles. Gary Player used to hold an iron between his index and middle finger and raise it up from the horizontal to the perpendicular, but then he was a pro.

In severe cases, a doctor might administer cortisone injections, or try Platelet-rich Plasma injections. This involves taking a small sample of the patients’ blood and then injecting the affected area with platelets and anti-inflammatories. Cortisone is not effective in the long term and PRP still needs further research. In extreme cases, surgery may be required.

Final Thoughts

In conclusion, prevention is better than cure, and most of these exercises recommended for healing and recovery would do just that, prevent.

Always remember to warm up. There is nothing more important, to get the blood flowing and to prepare for physical activity. Stretch. Stretching along with the warm-up enhances muscle memory. Remember to stretch the legs and back as well as the arms.

Have a coach look at your form, your address stance, speed of backswing, head position and follow-through, and naturally the grip. Stay hydrated, this is such a basic essential that most people overlook.

Good luck, enjoy the game and may your handicap continue on a downward trend.

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