The medical term for golfer's elbow is 'medial epicondylitis' and it is a condition where tendons on the inside of the elbow become inflamed and cause pain. It is similar to tennis elbow however the pain affects the inside of the elbow, not the outside of the elbow (as with tennis elbow). It is less common than tennis elbow.
The primary cause of golfer's elbow is overuse of muscles and tendons in the elbow, specifically those involved in controlling the fingers and the wrist. Although referred to as golfer's elbow, the condition can be caused by repetitive arm motion and hand clenching, also common in a number of other activities such as:
- Lifting weights – bad technique when lifting weights can place undue stress on muscles and tendons.
- Playing racquet sports – incorrect technique when playing backhand or putting topspin on the ball where the racquet itself is too heavy or too small.
- Any sport involving throwing – mainly ball sports, but also archery and track and field sports such as javelin and discus throwing can cause golfer's elbow (as well as tennis elbow).
- Some trades where repetitive physical arm movements are common – for example carpenters, plumbers and gardeners are prone to golfer's elbow (and tennis elbow).
Any repetitive arm movements and/or clenching of the hand (e.g. holding a tool or a racquet) made daily for two hours or more will increase the risk of developing the condition. People affected tend to be aged over 40 and people who are obese or who smoke are also at greater risk.
The main symptom is pain on the inside of the elbow, which can also affect the inner forearm and the wrist. Other symptoms may include:
- Pain associated with specific actions, for example swinging a golf club or making a fist.
- General weakness of the hand and / or wrist.
- Tingling sensation (or numbness) in the fingers, typically the little finger and the ring finger.
- Stiffness of the elbow.
Tests / Diagnosis
With suspected golfer's elbow, a physical examination is generally sufficient to diagnose the condition, however an x-ray may be necessary to check that any pain is not being caused by another condition, for example arthritis. In some cases, an MRI scan may be required, again to rule out any other cause.
Like tennis elbow, golfer's elbow can last for a long time (many months) and in some instances can simply go away on its own, although this can take anywhere from six months to two years (and even then, it may not entirely disappear).
The most important initial treatment is to avoid those activities that caused the condition in the first place, and taking pain medication and/or applying ice to the elbow. A 'counterforce brace' may also help.
The next steps, if the measures above do not help, include:
- Physiotherapy and stretching exercises.
- Platelet-rich plasma injection.
Where none of these treatments are effective over a 6-12 month period, surgery may be an option.