As the temperature starts to drop and we head into fall, the weather becomes prime for tennis and golf. We just had two of these sports’ most anticipated and highly watched events that occur every year. The 2021 PGA Championship ended at the very beginning of the month, as did the tennis US Open. With these sports being top of mind and more popular at this time of year, we tend to see more injuries associated with tennis and golf. Specifically, tennis elbow and golfer’s elbow.
What’s the Difference?
While many people are familiar with the names of these conditions, there is less widespread understanding about how they differ. Both tennis elbow, or lateral epicondylitis, and golfer’s elbow, or medial epicondylitis, are injuries to the tendons attaching your forearm muscles to the bone at your elbow. The “epicondyle” part of epicondylitis refers to the bony bumps or protrusions at your elbow.
Lateral epicondylitis affects the tendons attached to the outer side of your elbow, which are connected in turn to the muscles that extend your wrist backward and straighten your fingers.
Medial epicondylitis affects tendons connected to the inner side of your elbow, which are attached to the muscles that flex your wrist and contract your fingers when you grip something.
Both injuries are usually the result of repetitive strain on the tendons, and although you don’t have to be a golfer or tennis player to experience them, the repeated forceful motions involved in both sports make them very common.
The structures involved in tennis elbow and golfer’s elbow are very similar, as are the symptoms. The main difference is that they appear on opposite sides of the elbow and arm.
Common symptoms of tennis elbow include:
- Pain that radiates from the outside of your elbow and down your forearm
- Tenderness on the outside of your elbow
- Weakness in your forearm or a weak grip
- Pain when you grip things, twist something or, if you play tennis, especially with backhand strokes
Golfer’s elbow symptoms are similar but occur on the inside of your arm and include:
- Pain and tenderness on the inside of your elbow
- Pain that radiates down your arm from the inside of your elbow
- Weakness in your hand or wrist
- Numbness or tingling in your ring and little fingers
- Pain when you grip or twist things
- Pain when you flex your wrist
Fortunately, most cases of tennis elbow and golfer’s elbow respond well to conservative treatments. Surgery is usually not necessary, although complete recovery can take weeks or even months, depending on the severity of the condition. As will other forms of tendonitis, the most important aspect of treatment is to reduce the amount of strain on the affected tendons. This may include resting the arm, using a brace or athletic taping, wrist splints, and once healed, correcting improper technique/form to prevent the recurrence of the injury.
- Ice: Depending on the severity, icing the affected area may help reduce pain and inflammation
- Anti-inflammatory medications: Medications such as ibuprofen or naproxen are commonly recommended
- Stretching exercises: Exercises that stretch the involved forearm muscles can help reduce strain on the inflamed tendons
- Physical therapy: Stretches and strengthening exercises through physical therapy can aid and accelerate the recovery process
- Cortisone injections: In severe cases, your doctor may recommend cortisone injections for pain relief and to reduce inflammation
Dr. Nelson knows just how important a pain-free match or an 18-hole round is to passionate tennis and golf players and he looks forward to helping you get back in the game with minimal downtime. If tennis or golfer’s elbow is affecting your game, give Dr. Nelson a call at 435-774-8511.