It’s difficult to enjoy your golf game when the pain in your elbow is a constant companion. Golfer’s elbow (medial epicondylitis) not only affects golfers, it can be a problem for anyone who uses their forearms for jobs or sports involving repetitive activity, such as hammering, gardening, shoveling, bowling and swimming. Overuse can strain the tendons that connect the inner elbow to the forearm, leading to pain, weakness and inflammation (tendonitis). Golfer’s elbow is different from tennis elbow, a condition in which the tendons on the outside of the elbow become inflamed.
Physical therapists who treat golfers agree that one of the most common causes of golfer’s elbow (at least for golfers) is what’s called the “chicken wing” swing. This is when the golfer draws his or her arms in toward the body just as the club hits the ball. This pulling in of the arms against the centrifugal force being exerted by the club puts strain on the muscles and tendons of the forearm. This can be caused by being improperly aligned with the ball, or can also be due to a limited range of motion in the shoulder joint.
Another problem with a golfer’s swing that can lead to golfer’s elbow is if the arm hyperextends during follow-through (usually by striking down on the ball rather than swinging up and through), which can cause the tendons to stretch beyond their capacity, creating small tears in the flexor tendons inside the elbow.
There are a number of treatment options available for golfer’s elbow, most of which are simple and non-invasive. First, rest the elbow as much as possible. Though this may require you to put your golf game aside for a few weeks, it will be worth it, as continuing to put wear and tear on damaged tendons will only exacerbate the situation and cause a buildup of scar tissue in the tendon, which will weaken it and make it less flexible.
You can apply an ice pack wrapped in a damp towel for 10 or 15 minutes every couple of hours to help reduce inflammation and relieve pain. Keeping the arm compressed with an elastic bandage and elevated when possible will also help with this.
The best way to prevent golfer’s elbow is to stretch and strengthen the forearms regularly, particularly before a game. Circling your wrists and bending your hands in towards your elbow and out again will help gently stretch the muscles and tendons. Chiropractic care can also be useful both for treatment and prevention. Your chiropractor can recommend specific exercises to stretch and strengthen the elbow and can use chiropractic manipulation to increase range of motion in the shoulder and at the wrist and elbow that may be contributing to the condition.
In rare cases, if these other therapies have not relieved the problem after six months of treatment, surgery may be necessary to remove part of damaged tendon, but most cases are successfully healed in a few weeks with proper care.