Understanding Golfer’s Elbow: A Comprehensive Guide to Prevention and Treatment for Golfers

Introduction

Golfer’s elbow, also known as medial epicondylitis, is a common condition that afflicts golfers and individuals engaged in repetitive gripping or wrist-flexing activities. While it can affect anyone, golfers often find themselves particularly susceptible due to the repetitive nature of their swings and the strain placed on the forearm muscles. In this comprehensive guide, we’ll delve into what golfer’s elbow is, its symptoms, specific risk factors associated with golf, and effective strategies for the prevention and treatment of medial epicondylitis.

What is Golfer’s Elbow?

Golfer’s elbow is a form of tendinopathy that occurs on the inner side of the elbow where the forearm muscles attach to the bony bump (medial epicondyle). The condition is characterised by inflammation, irritation, or tenderness which is typically underpinned by injury or degeneration to the tendons in this area. Contrary to its name, one does not necessarily have to be an avid golfer to experience golfer’s elbow; it can affect anyone engaging in repetitive activities that strain the wrist and forearm. However for the purpose of our blog today, we’ll look at it with a focus on golfer’s.

Symptoms of Golfer’s Elbow

Recognising the symptoms of golfer’s elbow is crucial for early intervention and effective treatment. Common symptoms include:

  1. Pain and Tenderness: Persistent pain and tenderness on the inner side of the elbow, especially when gripping or lifting objects. Often this pain and stiffness will be worst in the first few holes of golf, but gets better throughout the round.
  2. Stiffness: Difficulty in moving the elbow and experiencing stiffness, particularly after periods of inactivity. For our purposes, this often occurs the morning after you have played golf.
  3. Weakness: Weakened grip strength, making it challenging to perform everyday tasks that involve grasping or lifting.
  4. Numbness or Tingling: Some individuals may experience numbness or tingling that radiates down the forearm and into the fingers. This typically only occurs in severe cases, or when combining with another condition, like carpal tunnel syndrome.

Risk Factors for Golfer’s Elbow

Several factors contribute to the development of golfer’s elbow, and golfers should be particularly mindful of these risks. These include:

  1. Repetitive Movements: The repetitive nature of the golf swing, involving a combination of gripping, swinging, and impact, puts strain on the tendons and can lead to overuse injuries.
  2. Hitting Surface: Hitting off golf mats or particularly thicker grass can place more strain on the body, due to the grippy nature of the hitting surface.
  3. Incorrect Technique: Poor swing mechanics or incorrect gripping techniques can exacerbate the stress on the forearm muscles, increasing the risk of developing golfer’s elbow.
  4. Equipment: Using ill-fitted or worn-out golf equipment, such as clubs with improper grip size or worn grips, can contribute to increased strain on the forearm muscles.
  5. Frequency and Intensity: Playing/practicing golf too frequently or engaging in intense practice sessions without adequate rest can increase the likelihood of developing golfer’s elbow. If you are playing or practicing frequently, be sure to vary the type of shots you are practicing. Practicing your short game might not just be good for lowering your handicap, but also decreasing your risk of Golfer’s elbow.
  6. Age and Fitness Level: Aging can lead to a natural degeneration of tendons, making older golfers more susceptible. Additionally, inadequate physical conditioning may contribute to the risk.

Prevention and Management

Fortunately, there are effective strategies for preventing and managing golfer’s elbow, allowing golfers to enjoy the sport pain-free. Here are some of our favourite practical tips:

  1. Proper Warm-up and Stretching:
    • Begin each golf session with a thorough warm-up to prepare your muscles for the upcoming round. The first few holes are often the worst, so don’t start your round ‘cold’.
    • Incorporate specific stretches targeting the forearm muscles, wrists, and elbows to enhance flexibility and reduce muscle strain/tension.
  2. Technique and Equipment:
    • Chat to your local golf pro or TPI-certified practitioner about proper swing mechanics and gripping techniques.
    • Regularly assess and maintain golf equipment to ensure it is well-suited to your body and playing style. We recommend trying thicker grips if you have been struggling for a while with golfer’s elbow. It might feel like you’re holding a cricket bat, but it can take a lot of strain off the elbow be decreasing your gripping load.
  3. Strength Training:
    • Include strength training exercises in your fitness routine to build forearm and wrist strength. We’ll create a video of our favourite exercises and their advised progressions. So check our our YouTube or social channels when you get a chance.
    • Focus on exercises that target the tendons. Typically eccentric loading or targeted isometric exercises are best for the rehab and recovery of tendon injuries.
  4. Rest and Recovery:
    • Allow adequate time for rest between heavy load golf sessions to prevent overuse injuries.
    • If you experience early symptoms of golfer’s elbow, consider reducing the frequency and intensity of your play until symptoms subside.
    • Talk to your practitioner about some topical anti-inflammatory creams that may help reduce inflammation and aid in quicker healing.
  5. Ice and Compression:
    • Apply ice packs to the affected area to reduce inflammation and alleviate pain after aggravating activities. We only recommend you ice after aggravating the area, outside of these times avoiding icing is best. If you’re not sure, feel free to get in contact with us on hello@linkshp.com.au
    • Compression sleeves can provide support and help manage swelling during and after golf activities. Our favourite compression sleeve is the Sport’s Elbow Support from Bauerfeind. https://www.bauerfeind.com.au/collections/elbow-braces/products/elbow-compression-sleeve

Treatment Options

For those already grappling with golfer’s elbow, various treatment options can promote healing and alleviate symptoms:

  1. Rest and Modification:
    • Give your body the time it needs to heal by decreasing your golfing load and other activities that exacerbate symptoms.
    • Modify your technique and equipment to reduce strain on the affected area.
  2. Osteopathy:
    • A qualified osteopath can design a personalised rehabilitation program that includes strengthening exercises, stretching, and manual therapy to expedite recovery.
  3. Medication:
    • Non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) can be used under medical advice to manage pain and inflammation. Check with your doctor to make sure that it is safe for you to take NSAIDs.
  4. Bracing:
    • Wearing a brace or splint may help provide support to the affected area and reduce strain during activities. We only recommend this whilst the tendon is healing, as we do not want people to become reliant on a brace, either physically or mentally.
  5. Corticosteroid Injections:
    • In some cases, corticosteroid injections may be recommended to alleviate severe pain and inflammation.

Conclusion

Golfer’s elbow is a common condition that can affect golfers and individuals engaged in repetitive gripping activities. By understanding the symptoms, risk factors, and implementing preventive measures, golfers can enjoy their favourite sport while minimising the risk of injury. Early recognition and appropriate management, including rest, osteopathy, and lifestyle modifications, are crucial for a successful recovery. With a proactive approach to both prevention and treatment, golfers can maintain their love for the game without the hindrance of golfer’s elbow.

Golfer's elbow
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