Tennis Elbow vs. Golfer’s Elbow
What is tennis elbow and golfer’s elbow? These similar conditions are common among athletes and those who work with their hands. Overuse or trauma are the usual causes. Improper form or inadequate warmup can increase your risk. If you feel pain while using your forearm muscles, especially while clenching or extending your fingers, one of these conditions might be to blame.
With proper treatment, you can ease the symptoms of these conditions and resume your regular activities. On the other hand, ignoring or pushing through your symptoms may worsen the long-term effects. It’s possible to lose your full range of motion over time, and the pain can become chronic or increase in severity. That’s why seeking treatment is so important. Treatment is often non-invasive, involving basic exercises and over-the-counter medications. In extreme cases, however, surgery may be necessary.
Is tennis elbow the same as golfer’s elbow, though? While they do have some similarities, they also have some important differences. Knowing which condition you suffer from can help you get the right treatment to alleviate it. Here’s a look at how to identify and how to treat tennis elbow and golfer’s elbow.
What Is the Difference Between Tennis Elbow and Golfer’s Elbow?
Both tennis elbow and golfer’s elbow can cause severe discomfort as you use your hands to grasp, lift or twist objects. They also have similar causes, effects and treatments, but they impact different areas of the elbow — either the inner area or the outer area.
Either condition involves injuries to your forearm’s tendons after overuse or trauma. The tendons attach your forearm muscles to your elbow bone. They work as you grip, lift or twist objects. A weakened tendon means greater stress and can cause pain. The result can be tennis elbow or golfer’s elbow. The technical term for tennis elbow is lateral epicondylitis, while the technical name for golfer’s elbow is medial epicondylitis.
Tennis Elbow vs. Golfer’s Elbow: Lateral Epicondylitis vs. Medial Epicondylitis
It’s simple enough to decode these technical terms. “Lateral” is a medical word for “outer,” while “medial” is a medical word for “inner.” “Epicondylitis” is inflammation surrounding an epicondyle — a rough protuberance above the condyle of a long-bone. In laymen’s terms, tennis elbow is inflammation on the end of the outer elbow, and golfer’s elbow is inflammation on the end of the inner elbow.
Tennis elbow or lateral epicondylitis affects the outer or lateral side of your elbow. These are the muscles you use to bend your wrist backward and straighten your fingers. Golfer’s elbow or medial epicondylitis affects the inner or medial side of your elbow. These muscles flex your wrist and close your fingers into a fist. Repetitive strain and overuse cause both of these injuries.
Do I Have Tennis Elbow or Golfer’s Elbow?
Since these conditions affect different areas, you can feel the contrast between tennis vs. golfer’s elbow pain. Ask yourself which motions result in pain. If it hurts to close your hand in a grip, you may have golfer’s elbow. If it hurts to straighten your fingers, you may have tennis elbow.
Can Someone Have Tennis Elbow and Golfer’s Elbow at the Same Time?
You can experience both tennis and golfer’s elbow at the same time. Certain activities involve heavy use of both the lateral and medial sides of the forearm. This is common among tennis players, golfers and rock climbers, as well as construction workers and plumbers. If you do have both conditions, opening and closing your fingers may cause pain. Any movements involving your forearm’s tendons may be uncomfortable.
What Is Tennis Elbow?
Lateral epicondylitis, or tennis elbow, involves the extensor carpi radialis brevis, a muscle used when extending your wrist. You’ll likely have trouble lifting, gripping or grasping objects if you have this condition.
What Are Common Causes of Tennis Elbow?
Tennis elbow results from overuse or traumatic injury. You do not need to be a tennis player to wind up with tennis elbow, though. In fact, you don’t need to be an athlete at all. Any repetitive gripping or grasping activities can cause this problem. Some examples include:
- Using a knife to cut meat
- Using hand-held tools like a screwdriver or hammer
- Painting or drawing
- Weaving, knitting or crocheting
Any activity involving gripping and repetitive movement can cause this condition. In addition, a direct blow or traumatic injury can have the same effect. For instance, if you brace a hard fall by bending back your wrist and extending your fingers, you might sustain a tennis elbow injury.
Can Golf Cause Tennis Elbow?
Golfing can cause tennis elbow, and playing tennis can cause golfer’s elbow. These sports involve similar movements and activate the same muscles in the forearm. You can sustain either injury from playing either sport.
Can You Play Golf With Tennis Elbow?
Since these two sports involve such similar movements, it would be wise to take a break from both if you have either tennis or golfer’s elbow. Adequate rest and proper treatment help minimize the long-term effects of athletic injuries. Always prioritize your health and well-being.
What Are Tennis Elbow Symptoms?
If you have tennis elbow, you’ll feel pain and tenderness along the outside of the elbow. This pain might travel down the forearm to the hand, and your grip might be weaker than usual. Activities that can accentuate your discomfort include:
- Lifting objects
- Twisting objects
- Extending your fingers
- Making a fist
- Touching the outer elbow
What Are Tennis Elbow Long-Term Effects?
Without proper treatment, tennis elbow can become more than just uncomfortable. You may lose your elbow’s full range of motion, limiting your daily activities. In this case, you may need surgery to reverse the effects.
What Are Some Common Tennis Elbow Treatments?
Rest and physical therapy exercises are common tennis or golf elbow treatments. Consult with a professional before using any form of treatment. Here are some helpful physical therapy exercises:
- Wrist extension: Rest your palm face down on a flat surface. Extend your wrist, lifting it off the surface. Hold an object to improve your strength.
- Wrist flexion: This exercise is the same as a wrist extension, but with the palm facing upward.
- Grip strengthening: To strengthen your grip, squeeze a stress ball for a few seconds at a time.
Consistent strengthening exercises and rest can help reduce the effects of tennis elbow. In addition to physical therapy, you may need:
- Athletic taping: Simple athletic taping can reduce the strain on your tendons.
- A brace or wrist splint: Your doctor may offer you a brace or wrist splint as a more sturdy way to reduce strain.
- An ice pack: Using an ice pack can reduce pain-causing inflammation. Be sure to use a fabric buffer to protect your skin from the ice.
- Anti-inflammatory medication: Over-the-counter anti-inflammatory medication can help reduce the pain. Always adhere to recommended doses. If pain persists, see a doctor.
- Platelet-rich plasma therapy: This injection therapy can accelerate your body’s healing. It involves centrifuging a patient’s blood to concentrate platelets and then reintroducing the plasma, that is now platelet-rich, into the bloodstream.
- Cortisone injections: If your symptoms are severe, your doctor might recommend cortisone injections.
- Correcting form: If poor form caused your condition, you might improve your technique to prevent a recurrence. You could change your grip technique or choose a grip of a different size.
- Proper warmup and hydration: Be sure to stretch before engaging in repetitive activities. Always stay hydrated as well. Proper preparation can reduce the likelihood of injury.
- Surgery: In the most severe cases, you may need surgery to reverse the effects of tennis elbow.
What Is Golfer’s Elbow?
What Are Common Causes of Golfer’s Elbow?
The cause of tennis elbow vs. golf elbow is more or less the same. Like tennis elbow, golfer’s elbow results from overuse or trauma. Gripping or throwing-related sports like baseball, football, golf, tennis or bowling can put you at risk for golfer’s elbow, as can gripping and twisting tools. Any repetitive or forceful activities involving the wrist or fingers can result in this condition.
What Are Golfer’s Elbow Symptoms?
If you have golfer’s elbow, you may feel pain in your “funny bone” or the elbow’s inner bump. Certain movements, such as clenching your fist, might cause pain. In addition, your hand and wrist can feel weak, numb or tingly.
What Are Golfer’s Elbow Long-Term Effects?
What happens if golfer’s elbow goes untreated? Over time, the condition can worsen. Patients may experience a weakened grip, chronic pain or a limited range of motion in the elbow. It’s important to see a doctor for golfer’s elbow if the pain is persistent or severe. Allow yourself to rest — take a break from your activity until you can meet with a health care professional.
What Are Some Common Golfer’s Elbow Treatments?
Treatments for golfer’s elbow are similar to those for tennis elbow, with slight variations. Your health care professional will likely suggest physical therapy and wrist strengthening exercises, along with adequate rest. Simple stretches, extensions and flexions can help repair the damage. Exercises may include:
- Isometric wrist strengthening: Both flexion and extension exercises can be helpful. These involve lowering and raising your wrist with your palm facing either up or down, using your other hand for resistance.
- Resisted wrist extension: With your palm facing down, hanging over the edge of a flat surface, you can hold a lightweight dumbbell as you lower and raise your hand.
- Resisted wrist flexion: For this exercise, hold your dumbbell with your palm facing upward.
- Golfer’s elbow stretch: The golfer’s elbow stretch involves holding your arm out straight with your palm up. Then, pull your fingers and wrist down toward your body.
While these exercises can help strengthen the tendons and relieve pain, you may also require additional treatment. Your health care provider might recommend any of the following treatments:
- Athletic taping: In many cases, a health care professional will apply athletic tapping to ease the strain on the area.
- A brace: Wearing a compression brace around the elbow can reduce some of the strain. This is vital if you plan to continue the activity that caused your golfer’s elbow. You can use the same placement for a golfer’s elbow brace vs. tennis elbow brace.
- Ice pack or heating pad: Either an ice pack or heating pad can reduce inflammation and pain.
- Anti-Inflammatory medication: An over-the-counter anti-inflammatory can decrease the pain of golfer’s elbow.
- Platelet-rich plasma therapy. Your doctor may recommend this approach, which involves centrifuging your blood and concentrating the platelets to induce faster healing.
- Cortisone injections. These can help lessen golfer’s elbow’s effects in severe cases.
- Correcting form. You may need to change your grip or motion technique to reduce the strain on your tendons. Switching your equipment, whether it’s a tool or golf club, can make a difference.
- Proper warmups and hydration. Always drink plenty of water throughout the day, especially before, during and after exercise. Involve proper stretching in your warmup routine to strengthen and prepare your body.
- Surgery. In extreme cases, surgery may be necessary.
What Can Be Mistaken for Tennis Elbow or Golfer’s Elbow?
A few other conditions share similar symptoms with tennis and golfer’s elbow. Pain in the elbow joint or forearm can be a sign of several conditions, so it’s important to seek a professional diagnosis. You may believe you have tennis or golfer’s elbow when you actually have one of the following conditions:
- Radial tunnel syndrome: This is a dull, aching pain at the top of the forearm due to excess pressure on the nerve.
- Osteochondritis dissecans: This joint disorder tends to form in young athletes and involves cracks in the cartilage. It’s most common among adolescent gymnasts.
- Osteoarthritis: This is the most common form of arthritis. It involves cartilage wearing thin and can result in severe pain in the joints.
- Rheumatoid arthritis: An inflammatory disorder, rheumatoid arthritis affects the joints and other tissues of the body.
If you suspect you have either tennis or golfer’s elbow, consult with your healthcare professional to confirm. You may actually have one of these other conditions, which require different treatments and can be more serious.
Schedule an Appointment at the Hand Center of Louisiana
Tennis or golfer’s elbow can prevent you from doing your job or playing the sport you love. Both are painful and uncomfortable conditions, which limit your range of motion and decrease your strength. If ignored, these conditions can worsen and become chronic. For that reason, it’s important to take action as soon as symptoms are noticeable. If you think you have either condition, reach out to an expert — the professionals at the Hand Center of Louisiana specialize in hand and upper extremity conditions.
We’ll diagnose your condition and prescribe appropriate treatments, addressing your concerns along the way. We offer a convenient one-stop shop for consultation, diagnosis, pre-surgery counseling, surgery and post-op physical therapy. If you’re experiencing tennis or golfer’s elbow symptoms, schedule an appointment with the Hand Center of Louisiana today.