What is golfer's elbow and how is it treated?
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.
Golfer's elbow may cause pain and difficulty moving the elbow.
Symptoms of medial epicondylitis may develop slowly, particularly when the condition has been brought on by overuse. Other people may develop symptoms suddenly, especially in the event of injury.
Symptoms associated with medial epicondylitis may be mild or severe. Some 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
Causes and risk factors
Overuse of the tendon is one of the most common causes of medial epicondylitis. 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, and people who play the following sports are at a higher risk of developing the condition:
- tennis, racquetball, or squash
- weight lifting
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:
- construction workers
- regular computer users
- assembly line workers
When to see a doctor
Golfer's elbow can usually be resolved with rest, but a doctor should be consulted if pain or stiffness persist.
Whenever a person experiences lingering, unexplained pain they should seek medical attention to determine the cause and find a solution.
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 see a doctor. The doctor will be able to diagnose the cause of the pain and suggest treatment options.
Complications from medial epicondylitis are uncommon. If a person stops performing the activity that has caused 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.
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 will involve 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.
Medial epicondylitis will be diagnosed if the person experiences pain on the inner side of the arm when flexing the wrist.
A brace may help to provide support to the elbow, and ease symptoms.
Initial treatment for medial epicondylitis can start before a person sees a doctor. Resting from the problematic activity may relieve the pain within a few days.
To aid recovery, a person may also:
- 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
Elbow braces are available to purchase online.
In some cases, a doctor may also recommend:
Surgery will be considered 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 to 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.
Squeezes are a simple exercise involving a soft rubber ball or stress reliever. Place the ball in the palm of the affected hand and make a fist around it. Squeezing and releasing in repetition will strengthen the forearm.
Squeeze all five fingertips together and stretch a rubber band around them. Extend the fingers away from each other as far as the rubber band will allow.
Before performing this exercise, get a 1-pound weight. Place the injured forearm on a knee or table, with the hand suspended over the edge. Hold the weight in this hand, and slowly raise and lower it.
Forearm pronation and supination
This exercise involves holding a heavy object, such as a hammer.
Lay the damaged forearm on a table or knee for stability. To start, hold the object so that the palm is parallel to the body. Rotate the hand so that the palm faces downward. Return to the starting position, then rotate the hand so that the palm faces the ceiling.
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
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.