Medial epicondylitis is the medical term for golfer's elbow or thrower's elbow. This condition develops when the tendons on the inside of your elbows become inflamed and irritated due to repeated use.
Despite its name, you need not throw a ball or swing a golf club to develop this condition in your elbows, which is caused by repetitive motion as part of many day-to-day activities, such as performing yard work or typing at your computer. Pain and discomfort follow.
What is golfer's elbow?
As mentioned above, golfer's elbow is caused by damage to and inflammation to the tendons that run along your inner elbow (the side of your arm that folds inward when it's bent).
Tendons attach the tissues of your upper arm, your elbow and your forearm together. When you swing your elbow closed, these allow you to do so by engaging the muscles on either side of your elbow.
Similar to many tendon injuries, golfer's elbow happens as a result of repetitive strain on the inside of your elbow causes it to become inflamed and damaged over time.
When you perform a motion such as throwing a ball or swinging a golf club often, your tendons are subjected to repeated strain, which has a cumulative effect, leading to more serious injury that starts to cause weakness in the arm, as well as pain and discomfort.
Without treatment, these forces may even cause the tendon to tear away from the bone.
Golfer's elbow commonly causes the following symptoms:
- Swelling and tenderness along the inside of the forearm
- Pain occurring along the forearm when you move your hand, wrist or elbow
- Stiffness in the elbow
- Weakness in the hand and forearm when gripping objects
What factors can contribute to golfer's elbow?
Every individual is different, so everyone who suffers from golfer's elbow will experience it differently. The specific activity that contributed to the development of golfer's elbow, including raking the yard, using a computer without properly considering ergonomics, throwing a ball or playing golf may be an influencing factor. All of these may put a person at risk of developing golfer's elbow, and will do so in slightly different ways.
Beyond the activities that cause you to develop golfer's elbow, here are to of the most common contributing factors that lead to people developing this condition:
- Repetitive Motion - Tendons and other connective tissues will generally either break or sustain damage when they either are placed under a great deal of force or impact, or when they undergo the same small force or impact repeatedly over long periods of time, weakening them. The latter is more common, and because of this, people who play sports, work or participate in hobbies that require repetitive small strains on their elbows will be more likely to develop golfer's elbow.
- Muscle Tightness - The tendons affected by golfer's elbow are directly attached to the muscles on either side of your elbow, tightness in the surrounding muscles and joints, such as the shoulder, forearms or wrists, may all place greater strain on your elbows and contribute to you straining your tendons to the point where they become injured and cause pain.
What physiotherapy treatments are recommended for golfer's elbow?
As with many connective tissue injuries, manual therapy, hot and cold therapy, as well as physical supports such as braces are often a go-to treatment recommended by physiotherapists to start right away and help alleviate pain.
After these passive physiotherapy treatments have been enacted, generally a physical therapist will prescribe a number of exercises for a client who is suffering from golfer's elbow. These exercises will focus on increasing the strength and mobility of your elbow without causing your pain in addition to strengthening and relaxing the muscles that surround your elbow as well!
Since your arms works as a collective unit - with each muscle working with your tendons - to do actions like bending your elbow, it's important to make sure your injured elbow is properly supported and is able to heal.
Some of the most common physiotherapy exercises recommended for golfer's elbow include wrist mobility and strengthening exercises. Often golfer's elbow may have developed because your elbow is doing more work than it should to accommodate for loss of strength and mobility in your wrist. Because of this, focusing on strengthening your wrist's ability to support your elbow is a common tactic to encourage recovery from this injury.
How can physiotherapy help to prevent golfer's elbow?
Physiotherapy, while it can help your body to recover from injuries like golfer's elbow, actually excels at preventing injuries or painful conditions altogether.
A physical therapist can prescribe targeted exercises to provide ongoing support to areas of your body that may be injured (such as your elbow) and can also help you to practice activities ,like golfing with safe and proper form so that you aren't placing undue strain on your body in the first place.
Some of the most common ways that a physiotherapist may recommend that you prevent golfer's elbow include:
- Performing exercises that strengthen the muscles of your forearms
- Slowing your golf swing to allow your elbow to absorb less shock
- Using proper form in whatever activity you undertake to avoid overloading your muscles repeatedly
- Staying hydrated by drinking plenty of water before, during, and after your activity
Before undertaking any exercises while experiencing golfer's elbow, you should always consult a physiotherapist.
When suffering from a condition or injury, exercising the part of your body experiencing pain may just as easily make the injury worse as it could help to alleviate your pain and strengthen your body.