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Injury Prevention

Golfers Elbow, Elbow Tendonitis and Elbow Pain

Brad Walker provides a guide to the treatment and prevention of golfer's elbow

There are a number of conditions that affect the elbow area. The three most common conditions are "lateral epicondylitis" (tennis elbow), "medial epicondylitis" (golfers elbow), and medial collateral ligament sprain (throwers elbow).

The first two conditions are very similar, however the first affects the outside of the elbow (lateral), and the second affects the inside of the elbow (medial). For the purpose of this newsletter we will stick with the treatment of medial epicondylitis, or as it is more commonly known, golfers elbow.

What is Golfers Elbow?

Before we can understand just what golfers elbow is, it is important to have a general understanding of the structure of the elbow joint, and how the muscles, tendons, ligaments and bones help the elbow joint to function.

As you can see from the diagram to the right, there are many muscles and tendons that make up the elbow joint and forearm.

The diagram shows the anterior (or front) view of the forearm.

The left picture shows the muscles and tendons closest to the surface of the skin, while the picture on the right shows some of the muscles and tendons deeper within the forearm

There are also three bones which make up the elbow joint.

They are the "Humerus," the "Ulna" and the "Radius."

Now that we can see how the elbow functions, lets look at what exactly golfers elbow is.

Elbow Muscle Group picture used from 'Principles of Anatomy and Physiology' - Sixth Edition. By G.J. Tortora and N.P. Anagnostakos. Published by Harper & Row - 1990

Golfers elbow occurs when there is damage to the muscles, tendons and ligaments around the elbow joint and forearm. Small tears, called micro tears, form in the tendons and muscles which control the movement of the forearm. They cause a restriction of movement, inflammation and pain. These micro tears eventually lead to the formation of scar tissue and calcium deposits. If untreated, this scar tissue and calcium deposits can put so much pressure on the muscles and nerves that they can cut off the blood flow and pinch the nerves responsible for controlling the muscles in the forearm.

Causes

By far the most common cause of golfers elbow is overuse. Any action which places a repetitive and prolonged strain on the forearm muscles, coupled with inadequate rest, will tend to strain and overwork those muscles.

There are also many other causes, like a direct injury, such as a bump or fall onto the elbow. Poor technique will contribute to the condition, such as using ill-fitted equipment, like golf clubs, tennis racquets, work tools, etc. While poor levels of general fitness and conditioning will also contribute.

Symptoms

Pain is the most common and obvious symptom associated with golfers elbow. Pain is most often experienced on the inside of the upper forearm, but can also be experienced anywhere from the elbow joint to the wrist.

Weakness, stiffness and a general restriction of movement are also quite common in sufferers of golfers elbow. Even tingling and numbness can be experienced.

Prevention

There are a number of preventative techniques which will help to prevent golfers elbow, including bracing and strapping, modifying equipment, taking extended rests and even learning new routines for repetitive activities. However, there are three preventative measures that I feel are far more important, and effective, than any of these.

Firstly, a thorough and correct warm up will help to prepare the muscles and tendons for any activity to come. Without a proper warm up the muscles and tendons will be tight and stiff. There will be limited blood flow to the forearm area, which will result in a lack of oxygen and nutrients for the muscles. This is a sure-fire recipe for a muscle or tendon injury.

Before any activity be sure to thoroughly warm up all the muscles and tendons which will be used during your sport or activity.

Secondly, flexible muscles and tendons are extremely important in the prevention of most strain or sprain injuries. When muscles and tendons are flexible and supple, they are able to move and perform without being over stretched. If however, your muscles and tendons are tight and stiff, it is quite easy for those muscles and tendons to be pushed beyond their natural range of movement. When this happens, strains, sprains, and pulled muscles occur.

To keep your muscles and tendons flexible and supple, it is important to undertake a structured stretching routine. For a comprehensive reference of over 100 clear photographs of every possible sports related stretch, consider getting a copy of my book - The Stretching Handbook.

And thirdly, strengthening and conditioning the muscles of the forearm and wrist will also help to prevent golfers elbow. There are a number of specific strengthening exercises you can do for these muscles, but instead of me going into the details here, I have simply found another website that has already done all the hard work.

The website, www.physsportsmed.com/issues/may_96/nirscpa.htm explains a number of exercises you can do, both with, and without weights, and also includes diagrams and comprehensive explanations of each exercise. Although the site is specifically about tennis elbow, the exercises also relate very well to golfers elbow.

Treatment!

Golfers elbow is a soft tissue injury of the muscles and tendons around the elbow joint, and therefore should be treated like any other soft tissue injury. Immediately following an injury, or at the onset of pain, the R.I.C.E.R. regime should be employed. This involves Rest, Ice, Compression, Elevation, and Referral to an appropriate professional for an accurate diagnosis.

It is critical that the R.I.C.E.R. regime be implemented for at least the first 48 to 72 hours. Doing this will give you the best possible chance of a complete and full recovery.

The next phase of treatment (after the first 48 to 72 hours) involves a number of physiotherapy techniques. The application of heat and massage is one of the most effective treatments for removing scar tissue and speeding up the healing process of the muscles and tendons.

Once most of the pain has been reduced, it is time to move onto the rehabilitation phase of your treatment. The main aim of this phase is to regain the strength, power, endurance and flexibility of the muscle and tendons that have been injured.


Article Reference

This article first appeared in:

  • WALKER, B. (2007) Golfers Elbow, Elbow Tendonitis and Elbow Pain. Brian Mackenzie's Successful Coaching, (ISSN 1745-7513/ 44/ July-August), p. 3-4

Page Reference

If you quote information from this page in your work then the reference for this page is:

  • WALKER, B. (2007) Golfers Elbow, Elbow Tendonitis and Elbow Pain [WWW] Available from: https://www.brianmac.co.uk/articles/scni44a2.htm [Accessed

About the Author

Brad Walker is a prominent Australian sports trainer with more than 15 years experience in the health and fitness industry. Brad is a Health Science graduate of the University of New England and has postgraduate accreditations in athletics, swimming and triathlon coaching. He also works with elite level and world champion athletes and lectures for Sports Medicine Australia on injury prevention. Brad can be contacted via his website at injuryfix.com

Related Pages

The following Sports Coach pages provide additional information on this topic:

Stretching Stretching