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Golfer's Elbow

What is golfer's elbow?

Golfer’s elbow is a painful inflammation of the bony bump on the inner side of the elbow. The medical term for golfer’s elbow is medial epicondylitis.

The elbow joint is made up of the bone in the upper arm (humerus) and one of the bones in the lower arm (ulna). The bony bumps at the bottom of the humerus are called the epicondyles. The bump on the side closest to the body is called the medial epicondyle. The tendons of the muscles that work to bend your wrist attach at the medial epicondyle. Golfer’s elbow is also referred to as wrist flexor tendinopathy or elbow tendinopathy.

How does it occur?

Golfer's elbow is caused by overuse of the muscles that bend your fingers and wrist. When these muscles are overused, the tendons are repeatedly pulled where they attach to the bone. As a result, the tendons get inflamed. This commonly happens in sports such as golf, in throwing sports, and in racquet sports. It may also happen in work activities like carpentry or typing.

If you have had tendinopathy for a long time, scar tissue may develop in the tendon. This is called tendinosis.

What are the symptoms?

Golfer's elbow causes pain on the bony bump on the inner side of the elbow. You may also have pain along the entire inner side of the forearm when the wrist is bent. You may have pain when you make a fist.

How is it diagnosed?

Your healthcare provider will examine your elbow and check for tenderness.

How is it treated?

To treat this condition:

  • Put an ice pack, gel pack, or package of frozen vegetables, wrapped in a cloth on the area every 3 to 4 hours, for up to 20 minutes at a time.
  • You could also do ice massage. To do this, first freeze water in a Styrofoam cup, then peel the top of the cup away to expose the ice. Hold the bottom of the cup and rub the ice over your elbow for 5 to 10 minutes. Do this several times a day while you have pain.
  • Raise the elbow on a pillow when you are sitting or lying down.
  • Use an elastic bandage around the elbow, or a tennis elbow strap just below the tender spot on the elbow as directed by your provider.
  • Take an anti-inflammatory such as ibuprofen, or other medicine as directed by your provider. Nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory medicines (NSAIDs) may cause stomach bleeding and other problems. These risks increase with age. Read the label and take as directed. Unless recommended by your healthcare provider, do not take for more than 10 days.
  • While you recover from your injury, you will need to change your sport or activity to one that does not make your condition worse. For example, walk instead of playing golf, or write things out by hand instead of typing.
  • Follow your provider’s instructions for doing exercises to help you recover.

In severe cases, you may need surgery.

How long will the effects last?

The length of recovery depends on many factors such as your age, health, and if you have had a previous injury. Recovery time also depends on the severity of the injury. A mild injury may recover within a few weeks, whereas a severe injury may take 6 weeks or longer to recover. This problem can sometimes be long-lasting and can even come back once you are better. You need to stop doing the activities that cause pain until the elbow has healed. If you keep doing activities that cause pain, your symptoms will return and it will take longer to recover.

When can I return to my normal activities?

Everyone recovers from an injury at a different rate. Return to your activities depends on how soon your elbow recovers, not by how many days or weeks it has been since your injury has occurred. In general, the longer you have symptoms before you start treatment, the longer it will take to get better. The goal is to return to your normal activities as soon as is safely possible. If you return too soon you may worsen your injury.

You may return when you are able to forcefully grip a bat or golf club, or do activities such as working at a keyboard without pain in your elbow. It is important that there is no swelling around your injured elbow and that it is as strong as the uninjured elbow. You must have full range of motion of your elbow.

How can it be prevented?

Golfer’s elbow occurs because you overuse the muscles that bend your wrist. Slow down activities that cause pain. Wearing a tennis elbow strap and doing elbow stretching exercises may help prevent this problem.

Written by Pierre Rouzier, MD, for RelayHealth.
Published by RelayHealth.
Last modified: 2011-06-08
Last reviewed: 2010-06-21
This content is reviewed periodically and is subject to change as new health information becomes available. The information is intended to inform and educate and is not a replacement for medical evaluation, advice, diagnosis or treatment by a healthcare professional.
© 2011 RelayHealth and/or its affiliates. All rights reserved.
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