Golfer's Elbow- Causes, Symptoms, Diagnosis & Treatment

Medically Reviewed By : Dr Sravya, MBBS, MS

What is a golfer's elbow?

If you feel pain on the inside of your elbow and stiffness early in the morning, which then slowly radiates that pain into your forearm and wrist after a few weeks or months, then you may have Golfer’s elbow.

Golfer’s elbow, also known as ‘Medial Epicondylitis’ in medical terms, is a form of tendonitis (irritated & inflamed tendon) that causes inflammation and pain in the tendons which connect the forearm to the elbow.

Tendons are strong, fibrous tissues which attach muscles to our bones. They are similar to a rope.  But, in case of an injury or irritation, they become swollen and painful.

You don’t have to be a golfer to develop a Golfer’s elbow, you can get it from swinging a tennis racket, repeatedly using arms & wrists, putting stress on the muscles, improper lifting or throwing, etc. Not only golfers but tennis and baseball players can also acquire this disease.

golfer’s elbow

How common is golfer’s elbow?

Today, less than 1% of the population is having medial epicondylitis. It commonly occurs between the ages of 40 and 60 in men and women. Women are at more risk of developing this condition than men.

What exactly causes a Golfer's elbow?

It is caused by repetitive motions and overusing the muscles in your forearm which is why this condition occurs among athletes.

Golfers develop it by repeatedly swinging a golf club, baseball players from swinging their bats & tennis players by swinging their tennis rackets repeatedly. In all these cases, you can observe overuse of arms and wrists which leads to tendon damage resulting in pain, stiffness and weakness.

As we mentioned before, this doesn’t happen only with golfers but, any hand, forearm or wrist motions can lead to a golfer’s elbow. Other things that can cause this condition may include:

What are the symptoms of medial epicondylitis?

The symptoms of medial epicondylitis may suddenly appear out of nowhere or develop slowly over a period of time.

It might start with pain inside of your elbow and slowly radiate to your forearm and wrist. It takes weeks to months to develop symptoms of this condition.

Other things that you may experience are as follows:

How do you diagnose a Golfer's elbow?

Visit a doctor if your symptoms won’t improve even after a few days. Your doctor will ask you questions about your symptoms, pain severity, medical history, any recent injuries and your daily activities.

Your doctor then may perform a physical examination by applying a little pressure to your elbow, forearm, wrist and fingers to check for stiffness, pain and weakness or any discomfort.

The doctor may ask you to rest the arm on a table, palm side up and ask you to raise your hand by bending the wrist against resistance. If you feel any pain from the inside of your elbow, you may have medial epicondylitis. This test is called the Golfer’s elbow test.

Other tests might include:

How can medial epicondylitis be treated

In most cases, medial epicondylitis can go away without any special treatment, but it doesn’t go away if you don’t take care of it.

A Golfer’s elbow may take weeks or sometimes months to settle. This can vary depending on how long your symptoms have been present and whether you can avoid or decrease the activities or movements that increase your pain.

Lifestyle modifications can help you reduce the severity of symptoms. The only person who can help you manage your symptoms is you.

The treatment options are as follows:

1. Avoid making agitating movements:

Avoid making any aggravated movements since it can cause pain in your elbow. Most of the time golfer’s elbow symptoms and flare-ups are relieved by modifying/ reducing your actions or motions.

If these actions or movements are related to your work and seem to be an issue, you can talk to your occupational health department for support.

2. Try doing these:

3. Medication

For pain management, your doctor may recommend NSAIDs like Ibuprofen, aspirin or naproxen to reduce the pain and swelling. Apart from NSAIDs, a topical medication can also help in relieving symptoms.

A corticosteroid or a painkiller like lidocaine can be given in the form of an injection in order to relieve pain and swelling in the short term.

Surgery is considered when the symptoms still persist after 3 to 6 months. These surgery procedures can remove damaged portions of tendons which help in healing and reduces pain.

Many studies have shown that there’s only a 60 -70% chance of surgery can help to improve the symptoms.

4. Exercising

Do not stop moving your arms if you have a Golfer’s elbow. You should keep your arm moving to avoid stiffness and weakness of your elbow. You can rest for a while if you have any kind of flare-up but it’s important to keep your elbow moving. Exercise plays a major role in a golfer’s elbow since it will help you maintain your elbow range of movement and strength.

5. Ice

Apply ice on your elbow for 15 to 20 minutes. Use a cold compress ( a bag of ice), put it in a damp towel and place it on the area where it’s painful.

Repeat this at least three or four times a day, especially after doing an activity.

6. Lifestyle Changes

Smoking can interfere with the circulation to the tendons and this hints to us about the increased risk of injury.

Tendons may take longer to heal if there is insufficient circulation and sometimes your tendons may not heal at all. So, avoiding smoking is the best way to keep the golfer’s elbow away.

Being overweight can increase the risk of developing medial epicondylitis since it can lead to poor healing and resolution of pain.

How to prevent a golfer’s elbow?

When you start doing your activities and when you feel any pain in your elbow while doing it, stop right there & rest for a while. Overusing your muscles will eventually lead to a golfer’s elbow, so stop overusing it before it gets worse.

If you want to get rid of this condition quickly, you should consider doing some stretching and strengthening exercises. These exercises can also prevent it from coming back.

Don’t let a golfer's elbow be a nuisance in your life!

A golfer’s elbow can be a real nuisance and it keeps you away from doing your favourite activities, hobbies, sports or job. If left untreated, it can cause permanent damage to your elbow resulting in severe (chronic) pain and weakening your grip.

Do not be hesitant to consult a doctor if the symptoms persist for a longer time, because the longer you are delaying, the more it gets worse and it may lead to some serious complications for which you have to face the consequences.

Visit a doctor as they can guide you and recommend some best treatment options so that you can take care of your elbow and you don’t have to give up your favourite activities or job and sports, if you are a sports person.