Do you kit the links often? How about play catch with your kid? These activities may contribute to an injury called "golfer's elbow," where the tendons in the inside of your elbow cause pain. Here, our Stittsville physiotherapists explain how we can help with your case of golfer's elbow, including common treatments and prevention approaches.
Variably called golfer's elbow, thrower's elbow, or medial epicondylitis, this condition develops when the tendons on the inside of your elbows become irritated and inflamed by repeated use.
While the name is apt, since golfing will often be the cause of this injury, the condition can be caused by repetitive motions beyond throwing a ball or swinging a club. Even activities like typing at your computer or performing yard work may be enough to cause this injury to start in your elbow and cause pain or discomfort.
What is golfer's elbow?
As mentioned above, golfer's elbow is a painful condition caused by the inflammation and damage to the tendons that run along your inner elbow (the side of your arm that folds inward when you bend it).
The tendons on the inside of your elbow attach to the tissue of your firearm, your upper and your elbow itself, working together when you swing your elbow closed by engaging the muscles on either side of the joint. Like many other connective tissue injuries, golfer's elbow often occurs when the tendons in your elbow become strained or damaged from having excessive strain placed on them for long periods of time.
By doing a motion like swinging a golf club of throwing a ball often, you are subjecting your tendons to repeated strain that may build up over time into a more serious injury that begins to cause weakness in the arm, discomfort and pain.
Without treatment, these forces can even cause the tendon to tear away from the bone!
Golfer's elbow common causes the following symptoms:
- Stiffness in the elbow
- Tenderness and swelling along the inside of the forearm
- Weakness in the hand and forearm when gripping objects
- Pain running along the forearm with any wrist, elbow or hand movements
What factors can contribute to golfer's elbow?
Since each person is different, every case of golfer's elbow will affect them differently. The specific development of golfer's elbow in your arm may be influenced by a particular activity that contributes to its development. This can include raking the yard, playing golf, throwing a ball, using a computer without proper ergonomics and professional practices like plumbing. Any of these may put an individual at risk of developing golfer's elbow, and will all do so in slightly different ways.
Outside of the activities that causes you to develop golfer's elbow, the following are two of the most common contributing factors to developing this condition:
- Repetitive Motion - Tendons and other connective tissues will generally either break or sustain damage when they either are placed under a great deal of force or impact, or when they undergo the same small force or impact repeatedly over long periods of time, weakening them. The latter is more common, and because of this, people who play sports, work or participate in hobbies that require repetitive small strains on their elbows will be more likely to develop golfer's elbow.
- Muscle Tightness - The tendons affected by golfer's elbow are directly attached to the muscles on either side of your elbow, tightness in the surrounding muscles and joints, such as the shoulder, forearms or wrists, may all place greater strain on your elbows and contribute to you straining your tendons to the point where they become injured and cause pain.
What physiotherapy treatments are recommended for golfer's elbow?
As with most connective tissue injuries, passive physiotherapies such as hot and cold treatments, physical supports like braces to support your elbow and manual therapy or massage are go-to treatments for initial physiotherapy interventions to assist in alleviating pain.
After these passive physiotherapy treatments have been enacted, generally a physical therapist will prescribe a number of exercises for a client who is suffering from golfer's elbow. These exercises will focus on increasing the strength and mobility of your elbow without causing your pain in addition to strengthening and relaxing the muscles that surround your elbow as well!
Since your arms works as a collective unit - with each muscle working with your tendons - to do actions like bending your elbow, it's important to make sure your injured elbow is properly supported and is able to heal.
Some of the most common physical therapy exercises recommended for golfer's elbow include strength and mobility exercises for your wrists.
Often, golfer's elbow may have developed because your elbow is doing more work than it should to accommodate for loss of strength and mobility in your wrist. Because of this, focusing on strengthening your wrist's ability to support your elbow is a common tactic to encourage recovery from this injury.
How can physiotherapy help to prevent golfer's elbow?
Physiotherapy, while it can help your body to recover from injuries like golfer's elbow, actually excels at preventing injuries or painful conditions altogether.
A physical therapist can prescribe targeted exercises to provide ongoing support to areas of your body that may be injured (such as your elbow) and can also help you to practice activities ,like golfing with safe and proper form so that you aren't placing undue strain on your body in the first place.
Some of the most common ways that a physiotherapist may recommend that you prevent golfer's elbow include:
- Using proper form in whatever activity you undertake to avoid overloading your muscles repeatedly
- Performing exercises that strengthen the muscles of your forearms
- Slowing your golf swing to allow your elbow to absorb less shock
- Staying hydrated by drinking plenty of water before, during, and after your activity
Before undertaking any exercises while experiencing golfer's elbow, you should always consult a physiotherapist.
When suffering from a condition or injury, exercising the part of your body experiencing pain may just as easily make the injury worse as it could help to alleviate your pain and strengthen your body.