I know the question: ‘Can golf cause tennis elbow?’ sounds comical. We golfers have enough problems without tennis getting involved! But it is a serious question. Tennis elbow is an inflammation of the tendons in the forearm caused by the repetitive rotational movements players make in the game.
Golfers also make repetitive rotational movements, especially when making a golf swing. And they can get tennis elbow. It is much more likely though that they will get a condition called golfer’s elbow. Both tennis elbow and golfer’s elbow are injuries of the tendons in the forearm. I will look at the differences and similarities between the two.
Tennis Elbow and Golfer’s Elbow- what is the difference?
Golf elbow and tennis elbow are two different forms of tendonitis. Tendonitis is an inflammation of a tendon in the arm. It is caused by overusing or misusing the muscles in the arm. One common form of overuse is hitting a ball with force. Of course, we do this when we hit a tennis ball or a golf ball. These are not the only ways to get the condition, many types of work can cause it. If you make any repetitive moves, you can be at risk.
Over time the conditions can get worse. The tendon can even tear. A torn tendon can cause a lot of pain, and you cannot fully use the affected arm.
What are the differences between the two?
There are distinctions between the two conditions. Tennis elbow is called lateral epicondylitis. Golfer’s elbow is called medial epicondylitis. Any damage to the tendons of your forearm muscles can cause pain. (The epicondyle are the bony bumps on your elbows).
The main difference is the location of the affected tendons. In tennis elbow, they are on the outside of the elbow. In golf elbow, it is the tendons on the inner side of your elbow which are damaged.
The short answer to the question, ‘can golf give you tennis elbow?’ is that golf can sometimes give you tennis elbow. However, golfer’s elbow is a more likely affliction.
The truth is it doesn’t matter which you have. The treatment for both is broadly the same. As golfer’s elbow is more common in golfers, we will concentrate on this in this article. If you want to find our about tennis elbow, there is an excellent overview here.
How will I know if I have golfer’s elbow?
Do you get pain on the inner side of your elbow? And perhaps you even have some swelling or redness on the skin. Then you could have medial epicondylitis or golfer’s elbow. If you have pain on the outer side of your elbow, you may have tennis elbow, lateral epicondylitis. Let’s investigate further.
If you have golfer’s elbow you may have the following symptoms:
- The inner side of your elbow hurts.
- This pain may worsen if you flex your arm. Making a fist may make hurt. Executing a golf swing can often hurt like hell.
- Your elbow feels stiff.
- Weakness in your hands and your wrists. You will notice this especially when you move and turn your hands or flex your wrists.
- A numb feeling or tingling in your fingers, usually in the ring finger and little finger.
Try this test
Try this, and if any of these movements hurt, then you may be at risk of golfer’s elbow.
- Flex your wrist briskly from left to right.
- Curl your fingers slowly into a fist, release and repeat a few times (stop if it is hurting or after five times).
- Turn your hand; palm facing Do this quickly and snappily.
What are the main risk factors for golfer’s elbow?
- If you are over forty, you should take care.
- Smoking seems to make you vulnerable (although it is not clear why).
- Performing repetitive movements.
How can I prevent golfer’s elbow?
If you make repetitive wrist and arm motions you may be at risk. Making these over a long period, or very frequently can inflame the tendons linked to the muscles of the forearm.
Of course, you will be making these when you play golf. I want to look at two areas here. One is your general health and fitness; the other is your golf technique.
Improve your general health
Protect yourself. Warm up correctly every time before you begin a golf game or even practice on the driving range. Improving your general strength and fitness levels will make tendon injuries (which is what golf elbow is) less likely. You might want to try some workouts which focus on upper body strength and muscle development. Do some flexibility exercises as well. Build up the muscles of your forearms by lifting light weights.
Follow a regular exercise regime if you think you are at risk.
Strong muscles are much better equipped to resist sudden shock or repeated movements. A good physiotherapist can give you a set of exercises which can gently strengthen your tendons. But you will need an expert to guide you here, or you could end up making the problem worse.
Build in some stretching exercises into your regime.
Warm up by fast walking or gentle jogging before you begin to play to loosen up your muscles.
Improve your golf technique
We know that amateur golfers suffer more frequently from golf elbow than professional golfers.
This fact should tell us something important. Professional golfers play for longer, in more stringent conditions, making more challenging shots and using longer and heavier clubs. Knowing this, you might think that they would get this injury more. But they do not. I would suggest this is because they have a better technique.
It will help a lot if you get a brilliant golf technique. I would recommend going to a golf coach to check out that you are not putting any unnecessary strain on your muscles. It is good to see a golf coach anyway, but a lousy technique can mean you develop golfer’s elbow.
One question you might ask is: ‘are my golf clubs too heavy?’ If you have been using the same clubs for a long time, it’s especially important to ask this question. You may be stressing your body if at 40 you are still using the clubs which suited you at 25. Think about changing your golf clubs. You may find lighter clubs help. Try out graphite clubs. You may discover doing this lessens the problem.
Pay attention to your wrists
Try to make sure that you do not flex your wrists any more than necessary.
If you prematurely release your wrists as you swing, then you may be putting yourself at risk. This fault is also called ‘scooping.’ It is what happens when you unhinge your wrists before your club makes contact with the ball. You may do this because you think it helps you get the ball higher in the air. It might, but it will hurt your wrists as well. You are forcing your wrists into a stressed position time after time. It is a widespread fault; most coaches say over half their clients do this to some extent.
You can correct this by letting the club do its work. Try this on the practice range. You will find that if you keep the clubface open and keep your wrists locked until later that the ball naturally lifts. Spend time doing this, and your confidence in your clubs will build.
There is another reason for scooping. You may be trying to compensate for physical faults or weaknesses in your body. Lack of balance, lack of flexibility in your hips or your ankles, poor core strength can all lead to a poor technique.
The answer lies in the gym rather than on the golf course. Get a good trainer and work on upper body strength, hip and ankle flexibility and developing your core. Try some of these exercises to build up your core strength and get started.
What to do if you have golfer’s elbow
Resting your arm is good. Ice packs, after you have finished playing, will reduce pain. Over-the-counter, painkillers can help but do not rely on painkillers to mask symptoms if they persist. You can also try anti-inflammatory drugs, which are also available at a pharmacy.
Be prepared to take a break from golf. If you have a persistent problem, you may find that stopping playing for a couple of weeks and resting clears up your golfer’s elbow.
When to see a doctor
If you find you are getting inflammation or redness, then consult a doctor.
Diagnosis of golfer’s elbow is not easy. What a doctor will want to do is eliminate other causes. He or she may X-ray to ensure that you do not have a fracture. Arthritis is another condition your doctor will want to rule out.
Can I continue to play golf with tennis elbow?
Whether you have tennis elbow or golf elbow, recovery will often need patience. Rest is usually all that is required, but recovery can take weeks or months. The essential thing is to reduce the pressure and strain on the affected area. You may have to stop playing golf for a while. Before you do this, try wearing a brace, this could remove enough strain to allow healing even when you play golf.
What treatment will my doctor offer me?
Previously most doctors would give Corticosteroid injections. Nowadays this treatment is not standard. A newer way of bringing down inflammation is to inject extra blood platelets into the affected area. Your doctor may recommend a brace to relieve the pressure on the elbow while the tendons heal.
Rest and recuperation are still felt to be the best way of alleviating the problem.
Ice can help to deal with the pain. Most doctors recommend fifteen minutes a day four times a day. Apply an ice pack. Massage the painful area with some ice wrapped in a thin towel for five minutes at a time, three times a day.
The idea of surgery for your problems may feel a step too far. But there are some new surgical techniques which are simple and may be useful. Generally, doctors’ advice to try other methods for at least six months before even considering surgery.
There is a new surgical procedure called the TENEX procedure which is in its early stages but is showing some signs of success. You can read the medical background to the procure here.
This procedure is not invasive, involving no cutting. It works using ultrasound, which is used to remove the scar tissue which can build up around the tendons.
If you need to see a doctor
See your usual doctor first. If you don’t improve with rest, ice and over-the-counter medications, your doctor might refer you to a sports medicine specialist or a doctor with advanced training in musculoskeletal disorders.
It is worth considering what might have caused the problem. Don’t just assume it is your golf playing. It could be other arm movements.
If it is golf, then you may be able to make adaptations. Ask yourself if you have changed your golf equipment recently. Or perhaps you have changed your techniques. Try to eliminate all these possible causes.
Can golf cause tennis elbow conclusion
Avoid the problem by improving your technique. A couple of hours with a coach might mean you never suffer golfer’s elbow or tennis elbow.
If you have the condition be patient, rest may be the answer. If the pain does not ease, visit your physician and find a good physiotherapist. Enjoy your golf.