What Is Golfer's Elbow (Medial Epicondylitis)?
Golfer's elbow is when the tendons that link your forearm muscles to the elbow joint become inflamed and painful. In particular, golfer's elbow causes inflammation on the inside of the elbow at the point where your forearm muscles attach to a bony area called the medial epicondyle. Golfer's elbow is also called tennis elbow or medial epicondylitis. This condition is generally caused by intense, repeated stress on your wrist and fingers.
Signs & Symptoms
The main signs of golfer's elbow include pain, tenderness, numbness, and stiffness. These symptoms may be isolated to your elbow or radiate outward to your hand.
Golfer's elbow symptoms:
- Elbow pain and tenderness—The most common symptom is pain and tenderness on the inner side of your elbow. The pain may expand into your forearm and hand.
- Numbness—You may feel numbness or a tingling sensation in your elbow, forearm, hand, wrist, and fingers.
- Weakness—Individuals with this condition can experience a loss of hand and wrist strength. In severe cases, you may have trouble grasping objects. This usually only happens with chronic golfer’s elbow.
- Elbow Stiffness—The inside of your elbow may feel stiff when you try to move it.
The most common cause of golfer's elbow is overuse of the muscles in your forearm.
Other medial epicondylitis causes:
- Weightlifting—Bending, lifting, grasping, and curling weights can leave you at risk for an elbow injury.
- Sports with racquets—Any sport where you grip and swing a racquet, such as tennis and badminton, is a potential cause of medial epicondylitis.
- Throwing—Sports where you throw objects, such as baseball or darts, can place excess pressure on your forearm muscles.
- Repetitive movements—Repetitive motions, such as typing or using tools, can cause inflammation and pain in your elbow.
Certain risk factors make you more vulnerable to developing golfer’s elbow.
Risk factors include:
- Occupation—Jobs that involve repetitive hand and wrist movements put you at higher risk. This includes plumbers, cooks, assembly line workers, office workers, construction workers, and professional athletes.
- Lifestyle—Individuals who regularly lift weights, chop wood, use hand tools, or carry heavy items are more likely to develop the condition.
- Previous injury—A previous elbow injury, such as one that caused a fracture, can increase your risk for a golfer’s elbow.
- Age—As we age, our bodies and muscles naturally lose strength. This puts us at risk for injury.
- Other medical conditions—Some medical conditions can increase your risk for developing golfer’s elbow. For example, arthritis or diabetes. These conditions make your muscles, joints, and tendons more susceptible to injury.
A golfer’s elbow diagnosis is typically made after a physical exam and review of your medical history. Your doctor may also use imaging tests to confirm a diagnosis.
During a routine physical exam, your doctor may perform a simple resistance test. Your doctor will ask you to move your hand or wrist against their resistance. If you have golfer's elbow, you'll feel pain on the inside of your elbow.
If your doctor suspects golfer's elbow, they may order an x-ray. This test shows the alignment and size of bones in your arm, along with any golfer’s elbow injury or inflammation.
Magnetic resonance imaging (MRI)
An MRI is a more detailed test that can help your doctor see the extent of the damage and inflammation in your elbow. Based on these images, your doctor can make a proper diagnosis and recommend treatment specific to your condition.
Golfer's elbow treatment includes both non-surgical and surgical options. Your doctor will probably opt for non-surgical methods first and rarely recommend surgery. There is no known cure for golfer's elbow.
The first medial epicondylitis treatment is often rest. Your doctor might advise you to avoid the activities or motions associated with your pain. If you continue these activities, you may worsen your symptoms.
For medial epicondyle pain relief, your doctor might suggest ice. Icing your affected area several times per day can help reduce inflammation and pain. Typically, you should use a cold pack for no longer than 15 to 20 minutes at a time.
Splinting or Bracing
Another treatment option is wearing a splint or brace. This can offer short-term relief by taking some pressure off your affected tendons and muscles. You may wear a splint for several weeks, even while you sleep.
Your doctor may prescribe medication to help relieve your medial epicondyle pain and inflammation. Anti-inflammation medication can help reduce swelling that aggravates your condition.
A physical therapist can teach you exercises to stretch and strengthen your tendons and muscles. One exercise involves progressive loading of your tendons. This activity can increase your strength, flexibility, and endurance.
Surgery is rarely needed for golfers' elbow relief. However, if surgery is recommended, there are several options.
- Arthroscopic surgery—During arthroscopic surgery, your doctor makes small incisions in your elbow. They insert a thin tube with a camera attached, called an arthroscope, into the back of your elbow joint. This allows your doctor to see the inside of your joint and remove any scar tissue or loose fragments.
- TENEX procedure—In this procedure, doctors use ultrasound imaging to guide a small probe to the affected area. The probe then emits ultrasonic energy to break down the scar tissue.
- Open surgery—In open surgery, your doctor makes a larger incision in your elbow to remove or repair any damaged tissue.
If you or one of your loved ones experience any of the symptoms of golfer's elbow, please contact an orthopedic surgeon at Baptist Health today.
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