Ask a Vail sports doc: tennis elbow vs. golfer’s elbow
October 15, 2018
Cooler, late summer weather in the Vail Valley makes for perfect conditions to hit the links or local courts. This time of year is host to some of the most prestigious tennis and golf tournaments in the world including the U.S. Open Tennis Championship, PGA Championship and Ryder Cup. Golf and tennis enthusiasts will be spending more time perfecting their swings, but an increase in activity can also mean a higher likelihood of injury. What is the difference between tennis elbow and golfer's elbow and how can you prevent these conditions?
Lateral epicondylitis, also referred to as tennis elbow, is an inflammation around the bony prominence on the outer side of the elbow joint. This is a type of overuse injury that can occur with repetitive motion of the arm and wrist, causing inflammation to the tissues and tendons that attach to the bony area. Playing a racket sport can cause tennis elbow, but so can any activity that involves extending your wrist or rotating your forearm repetitively. Twisting a screwdriver or lifting heavy objects can cause this type of inflammation.
Pain at the outer side of the elbow and into the forearm is the most common symptom of tennis elbow. It can be either constant or intermittent in nature depending on the severity of inflammation. Swelling and warmth to touch may also occur in addition to pain with gripping, turning your hand or swinging your arm.
Tennis elbow can easily be diagnosed by your symptoms and a physician evaluation. Occasionally advanced diagnostic imaging may be ordered. Treatment will depend on the severity of inflammation of the tendon and may include, but is not limited to: rest, ice, over-the-counter anti-inflammatories, bracing, physical therapy, cortisone injections and surgery.
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Golfer's elbow, or medial epicondylitis, is a painful inflammation of the bony prominence on the inside of the elbow. Repetitive overuse of the muscles that attach at the medial epicondyle cause inflammation and tiny tears at the bony attachment site. Activation of these muscles allows you to bend or flex your fingers and wrist. Again, this can be caused by activities such as golf, throwing sports, racket sports, carpentry or typing. Carrying a heavy suitcase can also cause medial epicondylitis.
Pain and/or swelling at the inside of the elbow and forearm may occur when the wrist is flexed or with making a fist. Painful symptoms can radiate along the palm side of the forearm. Concurrent numbness or tingling into the ring and pinkie fingers may be the result of ulnar nerve entrapment secondary to swelling at the inside of the elbow joint.
Treatment for medial epicondylitis includes stopping the activity that produces your painful symptoms. An ice pack may be applied to reduce inflammation in addition to oral anti-inflammatories, strengthening exercises, bracing, cortisone injections and again, in rare cases, surgery.
Everyone recovers from injury at different rates. Returning to sport too soon may cause an exacerbation of your symptoms and thus delay your ultimate return to activity. Consideration for returning to activity includes being able to forcefully grip your racket or golf club, or being able to return to typing without pain near the elbow joint. The elbow should be free of pain and swelling with full range of motion and strength compared to the unaffected side.
If you think you may be experiencing symptoms of tennis or golfer's elbow, contact Vail Summit Orthopaedics at 970-569-3240 to schedule an evaluation today.
Victoria Stanislawski is an athletic trainer to Dr. Richard Cunningham, M.D. Vail-Summit Orthopaedics. Victoria received her undergraduate degree in athletic training/health education from Kean University and her master's degree from the University of South Carolina. As a graduate assistant, she worked as a Certified Athletic Trainer for the USC cheerleading and equestrian teams. She also served as a physician extender to two of USC Sports Medicine's orthopaedic surgeons. She completed The Steadman Clinic's Athletic Training Fellowship program in 2013. She is a board-certified orthopaedic technologist and licensed surgical assistant.