What is golfer’s elbow (medial epicondylitis)?

Golfer’s elbow is an orthopedic condition that occurs when the tendons of the forearm muscles that attach to the bony bump on the inside of the elbow are painful and inflamed.

Although many golfers develop this condition due to the repetitive motion of the swing, anyone can develop golfer’s elbow.

Causes of golfer’s elbow

Golfer’s elbow is caused by overuse or repetitive use of muscles in the forearm. The repetitive twisting, rotating or gripping movement can cause the tendons to develop tiny, painful tears.

Sports that can cause golfer’s elbow include:

  • Golf
  • Racquetball or tennis
  • Baseball or softball
  • Weight training

Other activities that use similar movements (bending and straightening the elbow) may cause golfer’s elbow are:

  • Painting
  • Raking
  • Hammering
  • Computer work

These sports or activities must be done more than an hour each day to cause golfer’s elbow.

Risk factors for golfer’s elbow

Risk factors of golfer’s elbow include:

  • Age — people over the age of 40 are at a higher risk for golfer’s elbow.
  • Weight — obese people are more likely to develop golfer’s elbow.
  • Smokers — smokers are more likely to develop golfer’s elbow.
  • Sports — golfers, tennis players, weight lifters and athletes who play sports that involve the forearm are at higher risk to develop golfer’s elbow.

Symptoms of golfer’s elbow

Immediate symptoms of golfer’s elbow include elbow pain that runs down the inside of the forearm to the wrist (on pinkie finger side).

Other symptoms of golfer’s elbow include:

  • Numbness and tingling in the elbow that radiates up to the pinkie and ring fingers.
  • Pain when flexing your wrist (palm down) or shaking hands.
  • Inability to grasp objects firmly

Pain may occur suddenly or gradually but typically worsens when the wrist is flexed.

Diagnosis of golfer’s elbow

Golfer’s elbow is diagnosed under the care of an orthopedic specialist, sports medicine physician or primary care doctor.

The physician will start with a full medical history of the injury and the patient and then perform a full medical exam of the elbow.

Your physician may order an x-ray to confirm the diagnosis and rule out elbow fractures or arthritis, depending on your medical history. If the testing is inconclusive, an MRI may be ordered.

Treatments for golfer’s elbow

Rest, ice and anti-inflammatory medications are the first-line treatments for golfer’s elbow.

When necessary, more advanced treatments for golfer’s elbow include:

  • Splint/brace
  • Physical therapy & rehabilitation
  • Steroid injection
  • Platelet rich plasma (PRP) injection
  • Medial epicondyle release surgery
  • Ultrasound-guided nerve hydrodissection
  • Ultrasound-guided percutaneous needle tenotomy (PNT)

Surgery is only indicated to treat golfer’s elbow as a last resort when the symptoms have lasted for six months or more without relief.

Recovery from golfer’s elbow

Rest is imperative when recovering from golfer’s elbow to get back to your normal activities as soon as possible.

Resuming your activities too soon may cause more damage and extend recovery time.

In severe golfer’s elbow cases, the pain may become chronic and linger for months to years.

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