South Africa is a paradise for golfers. With great weather and magnificent courses – on the coast, inland, in the bush and in the Berg – it’s no wonder there were over three and a half million rounds of golf registered on the handicap system last year! With all the walking golfers do, you could be forgiven for thinking that the most common golf-related injuries would be to the legs and feet. But, while knee pain is common, shoulder, back and elbow injuries make up the bulk of injuries experienced by professional, amateur and casual golfers alike. Golfers elbow is one of the most common overuse injuries in golf. Fortunately, golfers elbow treatment is effective and unobtrusive.
What Is Golfers Elbow?
Golfers elbow, or to give it its medical name, medial epicondylitis, is similar to its more common cousin, tennis elbow. The difference is, however, instead of stemming from damage to the tendons on the outside of the elbow, golfers elbow is caused by tears or pulls to the tendons on the inside.
Strangely enough, golfers elbow isn’t caused by continually flexing the elbow itself. Instead, it’s a result of overusing the muscles in your forearm that let you grip, flex your wrist and rotate your arm. Repetitive gripping, flexing or swinging can create small tears or pulls in the tendons.
Despite the name, golfers elbow isn’t only a golf-related injury. It’s also common in people who have manual jobs, such as carpentry, that involve repetitive hand, wrist or forearm movements (such as using screwdrivers and hammers). You are also at risk if you work for long hours typing at a computer. In addition to golf, other high-risk sports include tennis, bowling, and baseball. In fact, in the States, the injury is sometimes called pitcher’s elbow.
Golfers elbow can occur at any age, but it’s more common in people between the ages of 35 and 50. Although it occurs more frequently in your dominant arm, it can affect either elbow.
Symptoms of Golfers Elbow
Golfers elbow causes pain and inflammation in the tendons connecting your forearm to your elbow. Ironically, most elbow movements won’t hurt at all! One of the main symptoms is pain and tenderness on the bony bit on the inside of your elbow (the medial epicondyle). There can also be trigger points in your wrist flexor muscles. The pain becomes more intense when gripping hard with your hand, but can be reduced by rotating your wrist inwards, or by bending it, palm down, against some kind of resistance. Some sufferers also experience neck tenderness and stiffness, as well as some median nerve irritation.
Golfers Elbow Treatment
As with most overuse injuries, rest is the most important part of golfers elbow treatment. No matter what other treatments you try, the injury will not heal if it is not allowed to rest. Chronic injury – which is much more difficult to treat – can also occur.
When the injury is very painful, apply the ICE principles – ice, compression and elevation. After a few days, applying heat instead of ice is more beneficial, and most sufferers find wearing a tennis elbow brace offers considerable relief.
Sometimes, a physiotherapist can help reduce pain and speed up healing. He may use laser treatment, ultrasound or some other kind of electrotherapy to reducing inflammation. Additional treatments, such as muscle stretches, neural mobilisations, massage, and gentle mobilisation of your neck and elbow joints, may also help.
Anti-inflammatory medication, such as those containing ibuprofen, are effective supplements to physiotherapy. However, if the more conservative golfer’s elbow treatments don’t offer significant relief, a steroid injection may be needed.
Golfers Elbow Exercises
A combination of stretching and strengthening exercises is usually very effective at healing a golfers elbow injury. Please consult with a medical professional before attempting any exercises.
- Wrist flexion – bend the wrist of the injured arm forward and backwards as far as you can. Build up the number of repetitions until you can do two sets of 15. Watch this video to help make sure you’re doing the exercise correctly.
- Forearm pronation and supination: Keeping your injured elbow against your side, bend it 90 degrees. Turn your palm upwards, and hold for five seconds. Then slowly turn your palm downwards and hold again for 5 seconds. Try to do 2 sets of 15.
- Grip strengthening: Squeeze a soft rubber ball, holding each squeeze for five seconds. Try to do two sets of 15.
- Resisted elbow flexion and extension: This is like a bicep curl. Hold a can of soup, or a 1kg weight, with your palm facing upwards. Slowly bend your elbow so that your hand moves towards your shoulder. Then lower it slowly until your arm is completely straight. Do 2 sets of 15. As your arm strengthens, you can slowly increase the weight.
At Health In Motion, we are specialists in the treatment and care of sports-related injuries. Our golfer elbow treatments are conservative, non-invasive and comprehensive. You don’t have to be in pain – please call us today.