Though its name may be deceiving, golfer’s elbow can affect anyone. Not to be confused with tennis elbow, this overuse injury affects the inner forearm muscles that control gripping, rotating the arm, and flexing the wrist. Over time, this condition becomes increasingly painful and, if left untreated, can cause lasting damage to the arm, wrist, and hand. However, once identified, the cause of golfer’s elbow can be treated fairly easily with a combination of simple exercises and lifestyle adjustments. You’ll be able to get back in the game, whether it’s golf or any other one of life’s activities, in no time.
Golfer’s elbow is a lay term for medial epicondylitis. This condition affects the muscles of the forearm that help with gripping, turning the wrist, and holding or pulling objects. It occurs as a result of poor technique with exercise or lifting objects. While this can apply to golfers, it is also common among tennis players, bowlers, baseball players, carpenters, landscapers, or painters.
The primary symptom of golfer’s elbow is pain on the inside of the elbow felt while gripping an object or curling the wrist. Most patients are pain-free at rest, but can experience pain doing anything from light gripping to heavy lifting, depending on the severity of the condition.
Other possible symptoms include stiffness, tenderness, tingling, and numbness in the elbow, forearm, wrist, and hand.
Although the suffix “-itis” in the malady name medial epicondylitis usually indicates inflammation is present, recent studies reveal that in this injury, there is not much inflammation present after the first few weeks, and the pain mostly comes from muscular degeneration. The common flexor tendon, which is a tendon composed of several muscles that act to flex your wrist (curl it up) and grip with your hand, experiences this degeneration.
Golfer’s elbow is a result of overuse of the flexor tendon (in the forearm). Overuse occurs when other muscles, such as the muscles of the shoulder or lower wrist, are not strong enough to pick up the slack for the activity in which one is engaged, and as such, the entire load is dependent upon the flexor tendon. Because the muscle is overused and cannot handle the excessive load, it begins to break down by developing small tears.
- Consider your alignment while gripping and lifting. Think of an activity you do regularly that involves gripping or lifting (like holding a screwdriver or hammer, gripping a bat, racket, or club, or repeatedly opening cans). Now, notice the alignment in your shoulders and wrists. Does your shoulder rise up toward your ear or round forward? Is your wrist twisted to a strange angle? Do you feel strain in any particular parts of the body? If so, pause and focus on pulling the shoulder blades down the back toward the feet, pulling the collarbones wide, keeping the elbows relaxed and the wrists as straight as possible.
- Build cardiovascular fitness. Poor endurance makes your muscles fatigued and leads to compensations and overuse. If you push past the point of fatigue, you will overuse weak muscles and risk damage. By focusing on building cardiovascular fitness, you’ll enhance your endurance and therefore decrease your chance of injury to muscles and tendons.
- Mobilize prior to exercise. Before you engage in a physical activity like exercising or playing a sport, take a few minutes to mobilize the wrists and shoulders. Roll the shoulders and the wrists a few times in each direction to enhance circulation and thus increase range of motion, preparing the body for activity.
1. Pressurize the Hands. The movement of your hands and the way the hands are used to help support movement directly impact the strength and mobility of your wrists, elbows, and shoulders. But what if you never use your hands to their fullest capacity? The consequence is that the wrists, elbows, and shoulders are then required to do all the work, forcing them to be overused. To Pressurize the Hands, first imagine points at the base of the thumbs, pinky fingers, outer palms, and inner palms. Pull the finger stems long and push through all four points of the palms. In everyday life, you can Pressurize the Hands when you push a revolving door or hold anything in your hands. Pull finger stems long and push your palms against the door or against the object you are holding.
2. Align the Shoulders. The alignment of the shoulders directly affects the hands. If the shoulder is misaligned, it can misalign the arm, which puts excess stress on the hand. Additionally, the misalignment in the shoulders can result in nerve compression, reduced circulation and diminished muscle tone. To Align the Shoulders, first pull the collarbones wide—create width between the outer tips of the shoulders without compromising the space between the shoulder blades; then push the shoulder blades down toward the feet, creating space between the shoulders and the ears. In everyday life, you can Align the Shoulders while carrying a heavy bag. Instead of letting the shoulders slump under the weight of the bag, pull your collarbones wide. With each exhale, let the pressure of the bag’s strap remind you to push the shoulder blades down the back toward the feet.
3. Stabilize the Arms. To ensure you are able to Pressurize the Hands proportionately, you will need to Stabilize the Arms. If the arms are not stabilized, you may notice excess pressure in the thumbs or the pinky fingers while gripping or lifting. By stabilizing the arms, the wrists and hands can maintain better alignment, reducing the amount of wear and tear on the tendons and muscles. To Stabilize the Arms, first focus on the technique Align the Shoulders. Once the shoulders are aligned, make sure to micro-bend the elbows—a very small bend—to prevent excess strain on the ligaments in the elbow. Then, engage the deepest layer of abdominal muscles—the transverse abdominis—by pulling the belly in toward the back and up toward the rib cage. In everyday life, you can Stabilize the Arms when you close the trunk of your car. Simply Pressurize your Hands on the trunk door, Align the Shoulders, micro-bend your elbows, and engage your abdominals as you push it closed.
Build muscular strength. Maintaining proper alignment throughout the shoulders, arms, wrists, and hands requires strength. Focus on increasing muscular strength, first in the hands and shoulders, to give the forearms time to heal and rest. As the muscles in the hands and shoulders get stronger, begin to strengthen the muscles in the forearms, but this time with your best possible alignment! Try implementing some of the exercises below for best results.
1. Grab the hand of the injured arm
2. Slowly pull the hand toward the arm into extension.
3. Hold this for 30 seconds.
4. Repeat twice a day.
1. Position right wrist off the end of a table with the palm facing up.
2. Hold a light dumbbell in the right hand.
3. Use the left hand to bring the weight up.
4. Slowly lower the weight down using a 6-second count.
5. Repeat 15 times, 3 times a day.
1. Come to a comfortable side lying position with a light weight in your injured arm.
2. If available, place a towel between the elbow and the body.
3. Lower the weight and lift.
4. Keep the elbow pressed into the body.
5. Repeat until you cannot do any more.
6. Repeat 3 times a day.