How to prevent golfer’s elbow

Jeffrey S. Stephenson, M.D., sports medicine physician with Norton Orthopedic Institute, discusses golfer’s elbow treatment and prevention.

Golfer’s elbow is caused by repetitive motion that wears on the soft tissue near the elbow. Known clinically as medial epicondylitis, golfer’s elbow can happen to anyone.

Golfer’s elbow is a soft-tissue overuse injury at the point where your forearm muscle tendons attach to the bone on the inside of your elbow. When the injury is on the outside of the elbow, the condition is commonly called tennis elbow or lateral epicondylitis.

The repetitive motion of swinging a golf club can put strain on a tendon, causing inner elbow pain.

“There are a lot of gripping mechanics that have to happen to be able to get a golf club through the ball and hit a ball consistently well, which can cause an elbow injury,” said Jeffrey S. Stephenson, M.D., sports medicine physician with Norton Orthopedic Institute.

Golfer’s elbow pain starts on the inner side of the elbow and can radiate down the inside of your forearm. Your elbow probably will be stiff, and clenching your fist can be painful. Sometimes there will be weakness in your hands and wrists and tingling or numbness on your ring and little finger.

Rest, ice and over-the-counter pain relievers typically will take care of the symptoms. If your pain is persistent or severe, contact your primary care provider about whether you need the expertise of a sports medicine specialist.

If your elbow pain doesn’t go away

Pushing through the pain will make an injury worse. If rest, ice and ibuprofen or acetaminophen don’t bring pain relief, contact your primary care provider about treatment options.

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Ways to help prevent golfer’s elbow and inner elbow pain

To protect against injury, stretch the affected tendons through simple wrist-stretching exercises, and make sure you are swinging properly.

“If you are concerned that you are having consistent pain with your swing, it may be worthwhile to have your swing checked out by a golf professional,” Dr. Stephenson said. “If there are certain mechanical issues with your swing, it makes you more susceptible to injury.”

The wrong clubs also can affect your mechanics and put strain on your elbow. Get advice on the correct length and weight for your body and your swing.

If you are a golfer, don’t push yourself. Play shorter rounds and play less frequently to allow your muscles and tendons to get back in shape. Take regular breaks whether on the course or the range and avoid sudden bursts of activity, which can increase the risk of injury.

Stretching and strength exercises

Exercise to stretch the wrist flexor muscles in the forearm can improve your range of movement. Try this stretch twice a day:

  • With your palm facing up, lift your arm in front parallel to the ground
  • Allow your hand to fall downward by relaxing your wrist.
  • With your other hand, grasp your fingers and pull the relaxed hand back toward your body.
  • Hold for a slow count of 30 to 45 and rest for 30 seconds.
  • Repeat three times.

Exercises can strengthen forearm and wrist muscles, helping build strength and endurance to support your elbow.

Try this exercise to target the forearm and wrist:

  • Sit in a sturdy chair.
  • With your forearm resting on your thigh and your palm facing upwards, hold a modest weight — no more than 2 pounds — in your hand
  • Gradually lower the weight, relaxing at the wrist, and move the weight back to its original position. You can use your free hand to help.
  • Repeat about 10 to 15 times and take a short break.
  • Repeat twice.

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