Almost everyone has heard of tennis elbow and many people have suffered from it. However, about ten percent of all elbow overuse injuries are a result of medial epicondylitis — golfer’s elbow.
Golfer’s elbow, also called pitcher’s elbow, is an inflammation of the tendons in the flexor muscles where they insert on the bony, knobby, inside part of the elbow (with the palm up). Golfer’s elbow usually affects the right arm in righthanders and the left elbow among lefthanders. It is not to be confused with tennis elbow, which typically affects the outside part of the elbow (again, with the arm down, palm up).
Golfer’s elbow is caused by repeated stress to the muscles that allow the forearm to flex. The pain shoots up from the forearm flexors to the point where their tendons connect to the bone. In golf, that area is placed under stress near the top of the back swing as well as when the arms move downward to strike the ball.
The symptoms of golfer’s elbow usually come on slowly. There will be pain on the inside, bony part of the elbow that juts out toward the body when you try to rotate the forearm inward or flex the wrist toward the body. Although it’s called golfer’s elbow, any athlete who uses a strong down and in wrist snap as part of the motion is at risk. That includes golfers, rowers, javelin throwers, elite tennis players, and baseball players.
It is essential to get treatment. Otherwise, the arm can deteriorate, develop bone chips, scar tissue, and even arthritis. The immediate care includes relative rest (it’s okay to exercise other parts of the body) and applications of ice, just as you would with tennis elbow. Ibuprofen and aspirin will relieve pain and reduce the inflammation.
It usually takes two weeks for the symptoms to subside, then the athlete can begin exercises to strengthen the forearm flexors. Start by simply flexing and extending the elbow through a full range of motion. Then sit with the forearm flat against a table top, with the palm down. Rotate the forearm so that the back of the hand is positioned against the table. Complete both of these exercises 15-30 times, three times a day. It may take six to eight weeks for full recovery; more than that in cases of surgery.
Preventing golfer’s elbow makes more sense than treating it. Wrist rolls, wrist curls, and reverse wrist curls are some of the exercises effective in strengthening the flexor muscles of the forearm.