Golfer's elbow vs. tennis elbow are two common conditions that most people often confuse. Some people think a golfer's elbow and a tennis elbow are the same. Others have heard about one of the conditions but not the other. At the same time, some folks think they can only get a golfer's elbow from playing golf or tennis elbow from tennis.
However, this is far from the truth, as a golfer's elbow differs from a tennis elbow. These conditions have similar causes and symptoms. This post will help you draw a line between these conditions. We'll also explain the best treatment options and how to manage the conditions.
The Difference Between Golfer's and Tennis Elbow
It's easy to confuse a golfer's elbow for a tennis elbow and vice versa because both conditions are overuse injuries. Usually, they occur due to repetitive trauma on specific areas of joints. The repeated impact might be microscopic, but it tears tissues and causes swelling, pain, and inflammation around the elbow. That said, golfer's and tennis elbows are varying forms of elbow tendonitis.
Based on the above definition, it's worth noting that you can experience golfer's or tennis elbow when you engage in any repetitive activity that puts pressure on the elbow. For instance, repetitive wrist movements can either cause golfer or tennis elbow.
You don't have to be Tiger Woods or Roger Federer to experience these conditions. Everyday activities involving repetitive wrist and arm movements can lead to overuse injuries.
Here's a closer look at common activities that can cause these injuries.
Sports activities that entail extending the elbow, like archery, golfing, javelin throwing, and football, can cause injuries to your elbow.
It's a well-known fact that improper technique in tennis or any other sport that involves using rackets can injure your tendons. For instance, using a heavy or undersized racket can damage your tendons.
Weight lifting involves the repetitive use of the elbow and forearms. Elbow overuse can cause injuries. Poor form and improper exercise can damage tendons around the elbow, leading to a tear.
Repetitive tasks like meal preparation, typing, gardening, knitting, etc., can lead to overuse injuries.
From these examples, golfer's and tennis elbow are types of elbow tendonitis. It's difficult to draw a line between the two since they often have similar causes and symptoms. The main thing to remember when differentiating between these injuries is the location.
If pain is on the outside part of the elbow, it's the tennis elbow. On the other hand, if the pain is on the inside of the elbow, it means it's a golfer's elbow.
Here are the main differences between the golfer's and the tennis elbow:
The location of the injury is one of the main distinguishing aspects of these overuse injuries. Golfer's elbow is associated with inflammation felt from the inner side of the elbow and arm, whereas tennis elbow is from the outside.
The affected tendons also vary since the injuries affect different locations of your arm. For golfer's elbow, pain is from the inside, meaning the tendons affected are those that connect with muscles used for contracting fingers and flexing the wrist.
In contrast, tennis elbow pain is from the outside, indicating that the muscles affected are those that enable your fingers to spread and your wrist to stretch backward.
Signs and Symptoms
Golfer's elbow and tennis elbow share similar side effects, but the symptoms occur on opposite sides of the arm and elbow. Typically, you'll feel the discomfort of the golfer's elbow from the inside, whereas pain and tenderness for the tennis elbow are on the inside.
Golfer's elbow, also known as medial epicondylitis, irritates the arm and elbow's inner sides. Medical experts call it medial epicondylitis since it involves inflammation of the tendons. In most cases, this condition results from overusing the forearm muscles. Tendons connecting to the medial epicondyle, the inner elbow gets inflamed, which causes pain.
Symptoms of Golfer's Elbow
When dealing with a golfer's elbow, one feels pain in the "funny bone." You may also experience pain when twisting the forearm or lifting your hand. Tenderness in the inflamed area is another common symptom. If the issue lasts for several weeks, other symptoms you might experience include weakness in the wrist or hands or stiffness in the elbow.
Golfer's elbow symptoms can occur gradually, or you might suddenly experience some or all of the above symptoms. However, it normally starts with pain and tenderness and increases with time if left untreated. Certain movements, including lifting weights and swinging a golf club, can easily worsen the condition.
Golfer's Elbow Risk Factors
- Age: Individuals aged 40 years and above have a higher risk of developing golfer's elbow.
- Smoking: The condition is more prevalent in those who smoke.
- Repetitive activity: Repetitive tasks like knitting and typing can increase the risk of golfer's elbow.
- Weight: Being overweight and obese raises the risk of golfer's elbow
If left untreated, golfer's elbow can worsen. One might experience chronic pain, weakened grip, and limited motion around the elbow. When symptoms persist, it's important to see your doctor. Take a break from the repetitive activity until you get your arm checked.
Treatment for Golfer's Elbow
Your doctor will likely recommend the following treatment options to help you alleviate the symptoms of golfer's elbow.
The doctor will advise you to take a break from repetitive tasks that can worsen the condition. Depending on the severity of the condition, consider resting for a few days or weeks to lower the pain. You can rest longer to ensure all the symptoms disappear.
Isometric wrist strengthening exercises are also helpful as they help enhance flexibility and cope with pain. These exercises involve lifting your wrist with your palm facing up or down. Grip strengthening exercises also come highly recommended.
Here, you need a stress ball or a squishy ball. The exercise entails squeezing the ball in your hand several times while taking breaks. Doing this helps to relieve the pain in your elbow.
These exercises will help to relieve pain while at the same time strengthening your tendons. The doctor might recommend additional treatment to help you deal with your condition. Other recommended treatments can include athletic taping, using a brace, taking anti-inflammatory medications, cortisone injections, correcting your form, or even surgery.
Tennis elbow, also termed lateral epicondylitis, occurs outside the elbow. With this condition, inflammation happens in the tendons connected to the lateral epicondyle. This affects the wrist extensors. These are the muscles that stretch your fingers or extend the wrist backward.
Many tennis players experience this condition, but only a small fraction (5%) of tennis players are usually diagnosed with tennis elbow.
This means you don't need to play tennis to suffer from tennis elbow. Even people who are not athletes can experience this condition. Simple, repetitive tasks like cutting meat with a knife, painting or drawing, knitting, weaving, etc., can cause tennis elbow.
Symptoms of Tennis Elbow
One of the main differences between the tennis and golfer's elbow is the specific location of the inflammation. With the tennis elbow, pain radiates from the elbow's outer parts to your wrist and forearm.
You may also experience pain stretching to reach out for something, lifting, or grasping. Clenching your wrist tightly can also make you feel pain. Since the pain is on the outer part of your elbow, massaging this area is painful.
Tennis Elbow Risk Factors
- Age: Most people between 30-50 years have a higher risk of developing tennis elbow.
- Sports: Certain sports activities, such as tennis, softball, or baseball, can lead to tennis elbow.
- Previous injury: Past injuries can make the wrist extensors easily susceptible to tennis elbow.
- Occupation: Jobs that strain the arm or wrist, like chefs, butchers, or painters, can increase the risk of tennis elbow.
- Genetics: Genetics can make some people more prone to tennis elbow.
Treatment for Tennis Elbow
Before adopting any treatment option, it's important to consult with your doctor about your condition. Doing this ensures you use ideal treatments that lower pain and promote faster healing.
Like the golfer's elbow, your doctor might recommend resting. Taking a short or long break from any repetitive activity causing tennis elbow will help to ease the pain and heal the inflamed area.
Massaging the affected area is also a quick relief that helps to boost blood flow and trigger quick healing. Consider massaging your elbow several times daily to stimulate a faster natural recovery. An elbow compression sleeve may also help relieve pain.
The doctor may also recommend anti-inflammatory medications to manage swelling and pain that often causes discomfort.
For severe cases, conservative treatments aren't enough to heal from tennis elbow. A visit to the physician is important since they will review the extent of the injury by conducting thorough physical examinations. Intensive treatment options the doctor might consider here are cortisone injection, dry needling, or surgery.
How To Avoid or Prevent Elbow Injuries
While golfer's and tennis elbow are relatively easy to treat, these conditions can cause discomfort. Therefore, you must strive to prevent them. Modifying your repetitive tasks can ensure you don't get such injuries. Preventative measures are also helpful in avoiding recurring elbow injuries.
Here are helpful tips to avoid elbow injuries:
Warm Up To Avoid Shocking Your Muscles
It's always advisable to warm up before engaging in any physical activity. Whether lifting weights or performing simple exercises to keep fit, stretch for a few minutes to warm your muscles.
Warming up helps to boost blood flow in specific areas, which helps to avoid shocking your muscles. If you're lifting weights, start lifting light weights and increase weight gradually. The trick is to give your muscles enough time to warm up and adjust to repetitive workouts or tasks.
Take a Break
You don't have to quit exercising because you often experience golfer's elbow or tennis elbow. You can prevent such injuries with the proper form and knowing when to take breaks between workouts.
When you're involved in a repetitive task, know when it's good to take a break. Give your muscles some time to relax and recover. You can resume working after a few hours, ultimately preventing overuse injuries.
Practice Proper Form
Practicing proper form helps to avoid injuries. This applies to any exercise. Always confirm that you're using the correct technique to ensure you're not straining smaller muscles in your elbows. Ask your trainer or coach for assistance if you're unsure about the technique.
Use the Right Equipment
Along with the form, it's important to use the right equipment that allows your muscles to flex as required. If you're a golfer, consider using lighter graphite clubs instead of the old ones. For tennis players, the right choice of racket is vital. Remember that heavier rackets can increase the likelihood of experiencing elbow injuries.
Prioritize Enough Rest
Athletes know the importance of rest, especially after working out. To operate at your best, you must prioritize rest above everything else. Overusing your elbows will often lead to tennis and golfer's elbow. Most people will think that more is better, but the truth is that you risk getting injured.
If exercising is part of your daily routine, ensure you have enough time during the day to rest. Allow your muscles to rest before engaging in other repetitive tasks. Consider going for a massage to relax your tendons.
Strengthen Your Forearm
Since golfer's and tennis elbow are common overuse injuries, strengthening your forearm is an effective way to prevent these injuries. Exercises like reverse curls and wrist curls using light weights will help to strengthen your forearm. Hold a dumbbell or weight with your arms and rest your forearm on your thigh to do a wrist curl.
Ensure the weight is in front of your knee and your palm is facing upward. Curl the weight up and down as comfortably as you can. Do ten repetitions (reps) of this movement. For reverse curls, simply turn your palms to face downward and perform similar movements.
You can also prevent elbow overuse injuries by mixing up your exercise routines. Performing shoulder exercises for two hours will increase the likelihood of experiencing elbow injuries. Instead of performing the same exercises, incorporate other exercises that don't engage your elbows.
For instance, when performing bicep curls, take a break and squat. Give your arms a break, and you won't have to worry about experiencing golfer's or tennis elbow.
Exercises for Elbow Rehab
If you're already feeling pain and want to recover faster from golfer's elbow or tennis elbow, here are simple exercises to perform.
A fist clench will help to strengthen your grip strength by working on your forearm muscles. A table and a towel or a small ball are all you need to perform this exercise. The fist clench targets the long flexor tendons.
To perform this exercise:
- Allow your forearm to rest on the table with your palm facing up.
- Hold the small ball or rolled-up towel in your hand.
- Gently squeeze the ball or towel and hold the position for 10 seconds.
- Relax and do ten reps of this movement.
- Do the same thing for the other arm.
A towel twist is another simple but effective exercise targeting wrist flexors and extensors. Sit comfortably on a chair and hold a towel with your hands. Ensure your shoulders are in a relaxed position. Twist the towel as though you're wringing out water.
Repeat the movement ten times. Change the direction of the wringing and repeat ten times.
Supination With a Dumbbell
The supinator is a big muscle in your forearm that connects with your elbow muscles. It's the muscle that turns your palms up. To perform this exercise:
- Strive to get the right movement before using weights.
- Keep your elbow fixed in position and rotate your palm to face upward.
- Hold the position for 20-30 seconds.
- Once you get the form, use a light dumbbell to work on the supinator muscle.
Finger stretch exercises will help ease the tension around your fingers and help flex your forearm muscles. To perform this exercise:
- Place an elastic band around your fingers and cup your fingers facing up.
- Open your fingers, allowing the elastic band to stretch.
- Perform ten reps and rest.
- Repeat the exercise twice.
It's important to consult a doctor before performing any exercises recommended in this guide. A full evaluation guarantees you know the extent of your golfer's or tennis injury. Plus, you're ready to adopt the right exercises to lessen the symptoms of your condition and heal much faster.
Whether you're struggling with golfer's or tennis elbow, our team at Brace Direct is ready to help you. You don't have to endure the pain any longer. Schedule an appointment with our experts to start healing your elbow pain today.