Golfer's Elbow (Medial Epicondylitis)

Overview

What is golfer's elbow?

You don't have to swing a golf club to develop golfer's elbow. You can get golfer's elbow, known as medial epicondylitis, from swinging a tennis racquet, hefting a loaded food tray, hammering nails, or pounding away on your computer keyboard.

Golfer's elbow is a form of tendonitis that causes pain and inflammation in the tendons connecting your forearm and elbow. When you repeatedly use your wrist and arm to bend, grasp or twist things, your tendons develop tiny tears that can cause wrist, elbow and forearm pain.

Left untreated, golfer's elbow could cause permanent damage like limiting your elbow's range of motion, causing chronic pain and weakening your grip.

Who does golfer’s elbow affect?

Less than 1% of the population has golfer's elbow. It affects men and women between the ages 45-64. Women are more likely than men to develop golfer's elbow. Approximately 90% of people with golfer's elbow develop it doing something other than playing sports.

How does golfer's elbow affect my body?

Golfer's elbow usually affects your dominant arm. For example, right-handed people develop golfer's elbow in their right arm. Symptoms usually start as a tender spot on your inner elbow. Golfer's elbow pain can also radiate up and down your arm.

What's the difference between tennis elbow and golfer's elbow?

Like golfer's elbow, tennis elbow has less to do with a sport than with repeatedly using your wrist and arm to throw, lift or pound. The difference is tennis elbow hurts on the outside of your elbow.

Symptoms and Causes

What are the symptoms of golfer's elbow?

Golfer's elbow (medial epicondylitis) symptoms can take weeks or months to develop. They might start with pain in your inner elbow that seems worse first thing in the morning. Other symptoms are:

  • Aching pain in your forearm or wrist.
  • Pain when you try to make a fist.
  • Decreased grip strength.
  • Tingling in your hand.
  • Numbness in your hand.

What causes golfer's elbow?

Golfer's elbow (medial epicondylitis) happens when you repeatedly use your wrist and arm to bend, grasp or twist things. Over time, the tendons that connect your forearm and elbow develop tiny tears that can cause wrist, elbow and forearm pain.

Diagnosis and Tests

How is golf elbow diagnosed?

Your healthcare provider will ask what activities make your elbow hurt. They will examine your arm for specific movements that cause pain. Other tests might include:

Management and Treatment

What's the treatment for golfer's elbow?

First, give your arm a break. Healthcare providers recommend you rest your arm for at least six weeks before playing sports or resuming the daily activities that put strain on your arm.

Other treatments are:

  • Using ice on your forearm.
  • Taking anti-inflammatory medication.
  • Wearing a brace on your forearm.
  • Wearing a night splint.
  • Going to physical therapy.

Persistent golfer's elbow (medial epicondylitis) pain might require additional treatment:

Prevention

How can I prevent golfer's elbow?

If you developed golfer's elbow by playing sports, you can prevent new injury by paying special attention to your wrist and forearm during your warmups. You can also try adjusting your sports equipment and technique

For example, if you're a tennis player, try using a larger grip on your racquet or loosening your racquet strings. If you take tennis lessons, talk to your coach about improving your serve and forehand so you put less stress on your forearm.

If you developed golfer's elbow on the job, wearing a brace might help by giving your wrist additional support so your tendons can heal. You might also try building in breaks when you can do gentle stretches or simply rest your arm.

Are there specific risk factors for golfer's elbow?

You can increase the risk of developing golfer's elbow if you:

  • Spend two hours a day doing repetitive actions.
  • Smoke.
  • Have obesity.

Outlook / Prognosis

What can I expect if I have this condition?

Fortunately, most people recover from golfer's elbow without surgery and after resting their arm for about six weeks. It’s also good news there are simple steps you can take every day that can help your tendons heal. But left untreated, golfer's elbow c ould cause permanent damage like limiting your elbow's range of motion, causing chronic pain and weakening your grip.

Living With

How do I take care of myself?

Start by giving your aching arm some R&R. Here are other steps you can take once you're back in the swing of things — whether that's sports or work:

  • Talk to your healthcare provider about stretches for your wrist and arm that you can do before you participate in activities that strain your wrist and arm.
  • Wear a brace while you work or play sports.
  • Ice your arm after work or playing sports.

When should I see my healthcare provider?

Contact your provider if you still have symptoms even after resting your arm and doing physical therapy.

When should I go to the emergency room or seek immediate medical attention?

Golfer's elbow doesn't usually require an emergency room visit. But your symptoms might be signs of a serious problem. Go to the emergency room or get immediate attention if:

  • Your elbow looks misshapen.
  • Your elbow feels hot or inflamed, and you have a fever.
  • You think you've broken a bone.

What questions should I ask my healthcare provider?

Here are some questions you might ask:

  • I don't play golf. How did I develop golfer's elbow?
  • What is the treatment for golfer’s elbow?
  • What can I do about the pain?
  • Will I need surgery?
  • How long do I need to rest my arm?
  • Are there exercises I can do?

A note from Cleveland Clinic

Golfer's elbow can be more than a nuisance that keeps you off the greens, away from the courts or off the job. Left untreated, golfer's elbow could cause permanent damage like limiting your elbow's range of motion, causing chronic pain and weakening your grip. Talk to your healthcare provider if you have persistent elbow pain. They'll treat the pain and recommend ways you can take care of your elbow without giving up your favorite activities.

Last reviewed by a Cleveland Clinic medical professional on 08/17/2021.

References

  • Nirav H Amin (https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/?term=Amin+NH&cauthor_id=26001427) , Neil S Kumar (https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/?term=Kumar+NS&cauthor_id=26001427) , Mark S Schickendantz (https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/?term=Schickendantz+MS&cauthor_id=26001427) Medial Epicondylitis: Evaluation and Management. (https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/26001427/) J Am Acad Orthop Surg. Accessed 8/6/2021.
  • StatPearls. Medial Epicondylitis. (https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/books/NBK557869/#article-78902.s2) Accessed 8/5/2021.
  • Golfers Elbow. Accessed 8/5/2021. (https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/books/NBK519000/#article-22355.s2)

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