Your elbows allow you to carry out just about every arm-bending movement. They bend and stretch and are continually asked to do so. Such motions increase their chances of injury. One common problem is known as golfer’s elbow, medically known as medial epicondylitis.
Your elbows are joints connecting your upper arm bone (humerus) with two important forearm bones (ulna and radius). These bones are joined together by soft tissues known as tendons.
The repeated bending and twisting of your elbows or continual wrist or arm movements places significant pressure on tendons. Over time, these actions can lead to the tissues growing irritated, inflamed, and possibly even damaged.
Doctors blame most golfer’s elbow cases on constant or forceful motions involving your wrists and fingers. Other causes include incorrect exercise techniques and failing to properly stretch and loosen muscles and tissues before exercising.
Your chances of developing golfer’s elbow increase if you have risk factors including:
- Age – The condition is mainly seen in people 40 and older, with most cases developing in individuals between the ages of 45 and 64. But it has been seen in people representing a wide range of age groups.
- Gender – The injury strikes more women than men, but men do account for a large percentage of diagnosed cases.
- Athletic Activity – The condition might be named golfer’s elbow, but your risk heightens if you take part in any sport requiring continual finger, wrist, or arm-bending motions such as:
- Tennis and other racket sports.
- Track and field events like hammer tossing, discus throwing, and javelin hurling.
- Rock climbing.
- Archery. Often overlooked, this sport requires you to stretch your elbow and fingers continually.
- Specific Professions – Professionals at a higher risk of contracting golfer’s elbow include painters, landscapers, artists, plumbers, and construction workers. Office workers or individuals using computers several hours per day carry a greater risk. Believe it or not, a simple action like moving a computer’s mouse around a desk repeatedly places significant strain on your elbow.
- Various Hobbies and Miscellaneous Activities – Your chances of developing golfer’s elbow increase if you play the guitar and violin. Plucking the strings of these instruments places a significant strain on the fingers, arms, and elbow tendons. The casting and luring performed while fishing can weaken your wrists, fingers, and elbows.
Your symptoms may vary and often depend on how severe tendon inflammation or injury is. Problems commonly associated with golfer’s elbow include:
- Discomfort – Usually, pain occurs inside your elbow. Occasionally, the pain spreads down your forearm. In certain instances, movement worsens the pain.
- Tenderness – The stricken elbow is often tender and hurts to touch. The area surrounding the injury may be warm, red, and swollen.
- Numbness – In more serious cases, you can experience numbness or tingling. These sensations may occur in and around the affected elbow or extend into your fingers.
- Stiffness – Sometimes, your elbow grows stiff. If the stiffness is severe enough, moving your elbow or bending your arm can become difficult.
- Weakness – As the injury progresses, you may experience weakness in your arms, hands, and wrists. You may also lose the ability to make a fist or grip objects with your hands.
If not identified and treated in its earliest possible stages, golfer’s elbow can lead to progressive arm, wrist, and hand weakness, making simple tasks challenging. The associated pain can grow serious enough to occur consistently and interfere with your sleep cycle.
Your doctor may be able to diagnose the condition following a visual examination. During this first phase of the diagnostic process, they will look for any apparent irregularities like swelling or redness around your aching elbow. Medical professionals might also ask you to perform various arm or wrist movements. Should these exercises cause pain, your doctor may be able to make a firm diagnosis.
If these steps fail to produce a definite conclusion, you may undergo internal imaging tests such as X-rays and MRI scans. X-rays can help your doctor rule out other concerns like bone fractures. MRI scans (magnetic resonance imaging) enable physicians to view computerized images of your elbow’s inner structures.
The condition usually improves following a course of home therapy. Golfer’s elbow rarely requires surgical correction. Cases failing to improve after extended home care might need surgical intervention.
- Resting – Your doctor will urge you to rest the injured elbow. While you cannot avoid all arm, wrist, or elbow movements, you should avoid repetitive injury-causing actions like those performed when playing sports. This form of rest should continue at least until you experience no further pain or associated symptoms.
- Applying Ice – Applying ice packs to your injured elbow for 15-minute intervals several times per day can ease discomfort and reduce swelling.
- Exercising The Wounded Area – As directed by your doctor, stretching exercises may strengthen the damaged tendon and speed up the healing process.
- Bracing Your Injured Arm – Placing your elbow inside a brace or other movement-restricting device can provide added protection and keep it and surrounding structures from unnecessary and potentially harmful movements.
- Medications – Over-the-counter pain-relieving and inflammation-reducing drugs may temporarily lessen discomfort. These drugs must be used as directed and only for brief periods.
Few cases need surgery, but in the presence of severe soft tissue damage, long-standing pain, or physical disability, it may be needed.
On average, you can expect to make a full recovery in roughly six weeks using home care methods. Naturally, if more aggressive treatment like surgery is required, this timeframe will be longer and may also need a course of physical therapy.
It can be difficult to prevent the development of golfer’s elbow. You may lessen your risk through preventative measures such as:
- Adopting appropriate warmup techniques before exercising or playing sports.
- Not competing with worn or old sports gear.
- Wearing a brace to protect against injuries.
- Taking needed breaks, especially if employed in a high-risk profession.
You may lessen your chances by losing weight if you are obese and not smoking. Cigarette smoking increases your injury risk by causing bodily inflammation, and also slows the healing process by interrupting normal blood flow.
If you have the symptoms of golfer’s elbow, please reach out to Dr. Peter Howard.