Medial epicondylitis, also known as golfer’s elbow or thrower’s elbow, is a type of tendinitis. This is a condition marked by inflammation or irritation of a tendon. Overuse or injury causes small tears in the tendon connecting the elbow and wrist. These tears cause swelling of the tendon and pain.

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A person with medial epicondylitis typically experiences pain when they bend the wrist toward the forearm.

Often referred to as golfer’s elbow, this condition may affect anyone who performs an activity that puts a continual strain on the wrist and forearm.

In this article, we examine the symptoms and causes of medial epicondylitis. We also look at available treatment options, including a number of exercises that can help.

Initial treatment for medial epicondylitis can start before a person contacts a doctor. The first step is to stop the activities that are causing or aggravating the symptoms. The second step may involve physical therapy. Once there is an improvement, a person may return to previous activities with some modifications.

To aid recovery, a person may:

  • apply ice to the elbow and inner part of the forearm
  • take over-the-counter pain and anti-inflammatory medications
  • practice strengthening exercises
  • stretch the forearm
  • use a brace for extra support
  • return gradually to activity that involves the arm

In some cases, a doctor may also recommend:

Doctors will consider surgery if other treatment options have not worked. The surgeon may remove damaged tissue. They may also remove buildups of scar tissue or extra bone, which could be putting pressure on the tendon.

Exercising and stretching muscles in the arm can help prevent or heal medial epicondylitis. Ask a doctor or physical therapist about exercises, such as those listed below. They will likely have more personalized suggestions.

Ball squeezes

Squeezes are a simple exercise involving a soft rubber ball or stress reliever.

  1. Place the ball in the palm of the affected hand.
  2. Make a fist around it.
  3. Squeeze and release in repetition to strengthen the forearm.

Finger extensions

This exercise requires a rubber band.

  1. Squeeze all five fingertips together.
  2. Stretch a rubber band around them.
  3. Extend the fingers away from each other as far as the rubber band will allow.

Wrist extensions

A person should use a one-pound weight to perform this exercise.

  1. Place the injured forearm on a knee or table, with the hand suspended over the edge.
  2. Hold the weight in this hand.
  3. Slowly raise and lower the weight.

Forearm pronation and supination

This exercise involves holding a heavy object, such as a hammer.

  1. Lay the damaged forearm on a table or knee for stability.
  2. Hold the object so that the palm is parallel to the body.
  3. Rotate the hand so that the palm faces downward.
  4. Return to the starting position, then rotate the hand so that the palm faces the ceiling.

Symptoms of medial epicondylitis may develop slowly, particularly when the condition is due to overuse. Other people may develop symptoms suddenly, especially in the event of injury.

Symptoms associated with medial epicondylitis may be mild or severe. These include:

  • pain when flexing the wrist toward the forearm
  • pain that extends from the inside of the elbow through the wrist to the pinky
  • a weak grip
  • pain when shaking hands
  • difficulty moving the elbow
  • a tingling sensation extending from the elbow to the ring and pinky fingers
  • a stiff elbow
  • a weakened wrist

Overuse of the tendon is one of the most common causes of medial epicondylitis. This usually occurs through excessive use of the forearm, hand gripping, or wrist flexing. Small tears to the tendon can occur after repeated activity. Over time, these tears can lead to swelling and pain.

Medial epicondylitis regularly affects athletes. People who play the following sports are at a higher risk of developing the condition:

  • golf
  • tennis, racquetball, or squash
  • weight lifting
  • baseball
  • rowing

Others may be at risk because of activities performed at work. Any activity that involves continual twisting or bending of the wrist may put a strain on the tendon.

People in high risk occupations include:

  • butchers
  • plumbers
  • construction workers
  • regular computer users
  • assembly line workers
  • cooks
  • painters

Whenever a person experiences lingering, unexplained pain, they should seek medical attention to determine the cause and find a solution.

In the case of medial epicondylitis, signs that a person should contact a doctor include noticing that the pain gets worse with activity or if there is swelling.

If a person can identify the activity that is causing their medial epicondylitis, stopping the activity will eventually reduce the pain.

Rest will often lead to improvement. However, people with severe symptoms or who experience only limited relief after dedicated rest should contact a doctor. The doctor will be able to diagnose the cause of the pain and suggest treatment options.

There is no fast cure for medial epicondylitis. The primary treatment is physical therapy, which may take time to lead to improvement in symptoms.

The more different approaches to treatment a person attempts, the faster their recovery may be. This means trying out different therapy modalities and home remedies.

Recovery time will depend on the severity of the condition. In very chronic cases, recovery could take 6 weeks or longer, even with treatment.

If a person does not stop or modify the activities that are causing or aggravating the symptoms, their recovery will be slower.

Complications from medial epicondylitis are uncommon. If a person stops performing the activity causing the condition or performs it less often, they will usually recover.

Only those who continue with the problematic activity, in spite of the pain, tend to experience further issues. In these instances, a person may require surgery to correct the condition. Complications of surgery can include nerve injury or infection.

Only a doctor can diagnose medial epicondylitis, and a physical examination is often all that is necessary.

The doctor will likely ask about daily activities at home and work. In some cases, the doctor will want to take an X-ray of the arm.

The physical exam involves laying the forearm on a table with the palm up. The doctor will then apply pressure to the hand and ask the person to flex the hand towards the wrist.

A doctor will diagnose medial epicondylitis if the person experiences pain on the inner side of the arm when flexing the wrist.

There are several ways to prevent medial epicondylitis. One way is to strengthen the related muscles by doing exercises, such as those mentioned above.

Other steps include:

  • using proper form during activities such as golf or tennis
  • stretching before and after activity
  • stopping any activity that starts to cause pain
  • making any recommended adjustment to any sport or occupation equipment as well as technique

Chances of full recovery from medial epicondylitis tend to be very good. A person is more likely to recover quickly if they stop the problematic activity as soon as symptoms start.

Also, the person should apply ice to the injury, stretch the arm, and practice strengthening exercises, to encourage healing and prevent a recurrence of medial epicondylitis.