Technically known as medial epicondylitis, golfer’s elbow is a common condition of the elbow.
Golfer’s elbow is an inflammation of the tendons that attach your forearm muscles to the inside of the bone at your elbow.
The forearm muscles and tendons become damaged from overuse — repeating the same motions again and again. This leads to pain and tenderness on the inside of the elbow.
Overuse of the muscles and tendons of the forearm and elbow are the most common reason people develop golfer’s elbow. Repeating some types of activities over and over again can put too much strain on the elbow tendons. These activities are not necessarily high-level sports competition. Shoveling, gardening, and hammering nails can all cause the pain of golfer’s elbow. Swimmers who try to pick up speed by powering their arm through the water can also strain the flexor tendon at the elbow.
In some cases, the symptoms of golfer’s elbow are due to inflammation. In an acute injury, the body undergoes an inflammatory response. Special inflammatory cells make their way to the injured tissues to help them heal. Conditions that involve inflammation are indicated by -itis on the end of the word. For example, inflammation in a tendon is called tendonitis. Inflammation around the medial epicondyle is called medial epicondylitis.
However, golfer’s elbow often is not caused by inflammation. Rather, it is a problem within the cells of the tendon. Doctors call this condition tendonosis. In tendonosis, wear and tear is thought to lead to tissue degeneration. A degenerated tendon usually has an abnormal arrangement of collagen fibers.
Instead of inflammatory cells, the body produces a type of cells called fibroblasts. When this happens, the collagen loses its strength. It becomes fragile and can break or be easily injured. Each time the collagen breaks down, the body responds by forming scar tissue in the tendon. Eventually, the tendon becomes thickened from extra scar tissue.
The main symptom of golfer’s elbow is tenderness and pain at the medial epicondyle of the elbow. Pain usually starts at the medial epicondyle and may spread down the forearm. Bending your wrist, twisting your forearm down, or grasping objects can make the pain worse. You may feel less strength when grasping items or squeezing your hand into a fist.
One of the best ways to avoid elbow problems is to strengthen your forearm muscles and slow your golf swing so that there will be less shock in the arm when the ball is hit.
The following simple exercises can help build up your forearm muscles and help you avoid golfer’s elbow.
For best results, do these exercises during the off-season, as well.
- Squeeze a tennis ball. Squeezing an old tennis ball for 5 minutes at a time is a simple, effective exercise that will strengthen your forearm muscles.
- Wrist curls. Use a lightweight dumbbell. Lower the weight to the end of your fingers, and then curl the weight back into your palm, followed by curling up your wrist to lift the weight an inch or two higher. Perform 10 repetitions with one arm, and then repeat with the other arm.
- Reverse wrist curls. Use a lightweight dumbbell. Place your hands in front of you, palm side down. Using your wrist, lift the weight up and down. Hold the arm that you are exercising above your elbow with your other hand in order to limit the motion to your forearm. Perform 10 repetitions with one arm, and then repeat with the other arm.