Golfer's elbow is no picnic

Guest Column

Time is flying by, and it’s getting close: Spring will be here before you know it, and any golfer will tell you it doesn’t take much of a temperature hike to get them back on the course. If you or a family member is a fan, it’s a good time to remember that golfing is just like any sport — along with the rewards comes the risk of injury. It doesn’t matter whether you’re teeing up on an occasional weekend or you’re a scratch golfer. The risk of injury is there.

There’s a misconception about golf. So many people think that the sport carries very little risk of injury. Not true. Golf is a physically demanding game that can take its toll. Flying golf clubs and golf balls alone account for more than 40,000 duffers seeking emergency treatment every year. In fact, more than 60 percent of golfers have problems with pain and injuries every year. One of those painful injuries is golfer’s elbow.

Like tennis elbow, golfer’s elbow is no picnic. Also known as medial epicondylitis, it’s an inflammation of the tendons that occurs where your forearm muscles connect to a bony bump that’s located on the inside of your elbow.

Golfer’s elbow can come on gradually or it can be quite sudden, and you’ll know about it because it can be felt in a few different ways. There’s pain and tenderness from the inflammation on the inside of the elbow. The discomfort can also spread down your arm. Many people with golfer’s elbow will have even more pain from certain movements, like trying to swing a golf club. You might also feel stiffness in your elbow, but that stiffness can turn to pain from something as simple as trying to grip a club or even making a fist.

Another resulting problem is the weakness that you can experience in your hands and your wrist. Some people also experience an unpleasant tingling and even numbness that can involve your fingers. Often, it’s the ring and little fingers where the numbness and tingling will be experienced.

So, what causes golfer’s elbow? A big factor that can lead to the condition and one of the most prevalent causes is overuse. This is especially a problem for weak and untrained muscles.

You likely remember that we have talked about overuse before. It’s an injury that results from repeated movements that are the source of repeated stress to the area that becomes injured as a result. Excessive strokes, repetitive gripping, pulling or pushing, overusing your rear hand in your swing, or trying to power the club through with your hands, instead of using it properly to guide your club through the swing, are big offenders.

Here’s one other little surprise. Golfer’s elbow isn’t just about golf. It’s called golfer’s elbow, but it can also strike baseball or softball players and football players who are tossing or pitching the ball using a poor technique. It can also come from improper techniques used by weightlifters that result in problems for the elbow tendons and muscles.

If you’ve got golfer’s elbow, here’s what you can do to try and ease the pain: Rest is the first step, and that means taking several days off from golfing to try to help. Sometimes, icing your elbow with an ice pack three to four times a day can offer some relief.

To heal properly and get back into the swing of things, I recommend that you consult your medical professional. In fact, if your pain persists, I want you to get to a doctor. You know how strongly I feel about this. We’ve talked so many times about getting proper care, and one of the big concerns I have is that different problems can have some similar indications. You also know that I am not a fan of taking chances. Taking chances is never a good thing when it comes to your health and mobility.

You know the drill. Write down any medications and supplements you are taking, and bring that list with you to your doctor appointment. Make sure you give your doctor the details on how your injury occurred and share any other developments in your health. This is extremely important to give your doctor a full picture for purposes of your diagnosis.

When you go to the doctor, you can expect your medical professional will perform a thorough examination, and there can always be the potential for other tests to pinpoint the exact cause of your pain.

Don’t be surprised if your doctor prescribes physical therapy. When you arrive for your first appointment, your physical therapist will likely perform a thorough exam after reviewing the information your doctor has shared.

As those of you who visit with me often know, I believe in a conversation to get your firsthand view of the challenges, pain level and any other potential issues that are impacting you. All of this information allows your physical therapist to create a personalized plan that will focus on relieving your pain, restoring your flexibility and building strength through a combination of hands-on treatment and guided stretching and strengthening exercises. Your physical therapist may also treat you with specific, specialized soft-tissue techniques to promote healing.

Once you complete your physical therapy, you don’t want to forget what you learned. You need to make sure that you’re doing a little prep work before you head out on the course every time. Get to the course before tee time and do a warm-up routine to get your muscles ready for the round. You can ask your physical therapist for some warm-up exercises that will help protect your muscles and avoid problems like golfer’s elbow.

One final thought. Don’t let the fear of injury slow you down or keep you from playing. I’m thrilled that you’re getting out there and staying active. This is the key to preserving mobility and enjoying the things that matter to you. Quality of life is everything, so keep it going — but just keep in mind those simple warm-up steps you can take that make an enormous difference in preventing an injury.


By Bob Cairo
Special to the Coastal Point
Bob Cairo is a licensed physical therapist at Tidewater Physical Therapy. He can be reached at (302) 537-7260.