What is golfer’s elbow?
Golfers elbow (medial epicondylitis) is a common injury. It is most often caused by overusing the forearm muscles you use to flex your wrist and fingers. Overuse places an excessive load on the tendon attaching these muscles to the elbow. Add the stress of poor technique and your overloaded tendon gets inflamed and may literally start to fray.
If your sport involves a swinging or throwing action, overuse combined with flawed biomechanics may put you at risk. Golfers, cricketers, javelin throwers and baseballers can all be susceptible to medial epicondylitis. Furthermore, gardening, DIY home renovations or any repetitive manual activity may also cause this injury.
Golfer’s elbow affects men and women equally and can happen at any age. However, it frequently occurs between the ages of 35 and 50. Although it usually affects your dominant side, it can affect your non-dominant arm.
If you have chronic golfer’s elbow, the causes may be more complex than overuse and inflammation. Chronic golfer’s elbow can signal muscle weakness or degeneration predisposing you to injury. In this case, inflammation follows injury caused by poor underlying muscle condition rather than overuse.
Golfer’s elbow – symptoms
Strangely enough, most elbow movements will be painless. However, gripping is painful. Wrist pain when you stretch or flex is common, as is a general feeling of weakness in your wrists. Your inner elbow can feel tender and your neck might be stiff and sore.
Typically, the first signs of golfer’s elbow are small niggling wrist and neck pains and recurring stiffness. Early diagnosis and treatment may stop these early indications developing into a painful injury.
What ‘feels like’ golfer’s elbow but possibly isn’t?
Around 40% of people experiencing the symptoms of golfer’s elbow may actually have referred neck pain. Research suggests that damage or compression of the C67 nerve root that runs from your neck down your arms is probably a common source of referred pain to your medial elbow. The symptoms of this condition, called cervical radiculopathy can mimic golfer’s elbow.
Our experienced physiotherapists will assess you for neck dysfunction and related neural damage and work with you to correct these structural spinal problems. An accurate diagnosis of what ‘feels like golfer’s elbow’ is crucial in understanding and treating your injury.
Diagnosing golfer’s elbow
At Southport Central Physiotherapy we treat you as a person, not a set of symptoms. Our aim is to restore and protect your optimal bio mechanical health and to keep you as flexible and fit as possible.
Your physiotherapist will begin by listening to and discussing the history of your injury. Then they will conduct a series of tests including bending and rotating your wrist against resistance.
They may also recommend an MRI or ultrasound scan to identify tendon tears or inflammation.
As we noted above, golfers elbow is often confused with cervical radiculopathy. To help ensure an accurate diagnosis and appropriate treatment, your physiotherapist will check your spinal alignment and your neck.
Golfer’s elbow – treatments
Physiotherapy treatments for golfer’s elbow is designed to:
- Reduce pain
- Support tissue repair
- Restore the normal range of motion and function in your elbow and wrist joints.
- Restore normal muscle length, strength and range of movement
- Normalise your upper limb mobility and cervical joint function
Your physio will tailor a recovery and rehabilitation plan to meet your needs. Treatments may include, gently mobilising your elbow and neck joints, protective strapping, massage and exercises to lengthen and strengthen your muscles.
Three things you can do to recover from golfer’s elbow
M.E.T.H (movement, elevation, traction and heat)
Movement – After a few days try to get some range of motion back to the injured area without too much weight-bearing. Listen to your body.
Elevation – When you are resting, elevate the injury to reduce excessive swelling.
Traction – This is a method where a trained therapist gently pulls on the joint. There are various techniques but it should always be performed by a trained professional.
Heat – encourages blood flow rather than restricting it. Apply for no longer than 30 minutes at a time and it doesn’t need to be very hot. Just like with ice, don’t overdo it.
Stretching is important in recovering from golfer’s elbow. Your physiotherapist can show you a set of static or isometric exercises and wrist flexion exercises which you can begin as soon as you can perform them without pain and not a minute before!
Have your golf swing, tennis serve, or throwing action checked by your physio or a coach or trainer. Besides overuse, poor technique is a major contributor to golfer’s elbow. Keep a training diary and note any niggling or sudden pain that could signal the onset of this (or any other injury). This is a useful way to track the frequency, intensity and type of activities that make you prone to golfer’s elbow. Southport Central’s sports physiotherapists help sportspeople and athletes of all levels to achieve their personal bests.
If you’re sidelined by golfer’s elbow or any other recent or long term injury we’re here to help. Book an appointment.