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Golfer's elbow

Golfer's elbow is a condition that causes pain on the inner side of your elbow, where the tendons of your forearm muscles attach to the bony bump on the inside of your elbow. The pain may spread into your forearm and wrist.

Golfer's elbow is similar to tennis elbow. But it occurs on the inside, rather than the outside, of your elbow. And it's not limited to golfers. Tennis players and others who repeatedly use their wrists or clench their fingers also can develop golfer's elbow.

The pain of golfer's elbow doesn't have to keep you off the course or away from your favorite activities. With rest and appropriate treatment, you can get back into the swing of things.

Symptoms Causes Risk factors Complications Prevention

Golfer's elbow is characterized by:

  • Pain and tenderness on the inner side of your elbow. Sometimes the pain extends along the inner side of your forearm.
  • Stiffness. Your elbow may feel stiff, and it may hurt to make a fist.
  • Weakness. You may have weakness in your hands and wrists.
  • Numbness or tingling. Many people with golfer's elbow experience numbness or a tingling sensation that radiates into one or more fingers — usually the ring and little fingers.

The pain of golfer's elbow may appear suddenly or gradually. The pain may get worse when you:

  • Swing a golf club or racket
  • Squeeze or pitch a ball
  • Shake hands
  • Turn a doorknob
  • Lift weights
  • Pick up something with your palm down
  • Flex your wrist

When to see a doctor

Consult your doctor if rest, ice and over-the-counter pain relievers don't ease your elbow pain and tenderness. Seek immediate care if:

  • Your elbow is hot and inflamed and you have a fever
  • You can't bend your elbow
  • Your elbow looks deformed
  • You suspect you've broken a bone

Golfer's elbow, also known as medial epicondylitis, is caused by damage to the muscles and tendons that control your wrist and fingers. The damage is typically related to excess or repetitive stress — especially forceful wrist and finger motions. Improper lifting, throwing or hitting, as well as too little warm-up or poor conditioning, also can contribute to Golfer's elbow.

Many activities can lead to golfer's elbow, including:

  • Golf. Gripping or swinging the clubs incorrectly can take a toll on your muscles and tendons.
  • Racket sports. Excessive topspin can hurt your elbow. Using a racket that's too small or heavy also can lead to injury.
  • Throwing sports. Improper pitching technique in baseball or softball can be another culprit. Football, archery and javelin throwing also can cause golfer's elbow.
  • Weight training. Lifting weights using improper technique, such as curling the wrists during a biceps exercise, can lead to overload of the elbow muscles and tendons.
  • Other activities. Any activity that causes you to repeatedly bend and straighten your elbow can cause golfer's elbow. This includes activities such as painting, raking, hammering, chopping wood, using a computer, doing assembly-line work and cooking. A day or two of yardwork or cooking for company usually won't cause golfer's elbow, though. The activity generally needs to be done for more than an hour a day on many days to cause a problem.

Golfer's elbow is most common in people older than 35. Despite its name, golfer's elbow can affect anyone who repetitively stresses the wrists or fingers.

Left untreated, golfer's elbow can cause:

  • Chronic elbow pain
  • A limited range of motion
  • A lasting, fixed bend (contracture) in your elbow

You can take steps to prevent golfer's elbow:

  • Strengthen your forearm muscles. Use light weights or squeeze a tennis ball. Even simple exercises can help your muscles better absorb the energy of sudden physical stress.
  • Stretch before your activity. Walk or jog for a few minutes to warm up your muscles. Then take time for gentle stretching before you begin your game.
  • Fix your form. If you golf, ask an instructor to check your grip and swing technique. The golf swing is a whole-body swing, from the legs up. Sometimes, problems with your swing will cause you to use your wrist muscles more than you should, leading to overload. If you're using older golfing irons, consider upgrading to lighter graphite clubs.

    If you play tennis, ask an instructor to check your technique for serving or hitting a forehand. The design of the racket may play a role too. A racket with a small grip or a heavy head may increase the risk of elbow problems.

  • Lift smartly. When lifting anything — including free weights — keep your wrist rigid and stable to reduce the force transmitted to your elbow.

It's also important to know when to rest. At the first sign of elbow pain, take a break. In addition to self-care measures, time off is often needed to promote healing.

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