Tennis Elbow vs. Golf Elbow: Causes & Treatments
If you are an athlete experiencing elbow pain, it could possibly be tennis elbow or golf elbow, but how do you tell the difference? Tennis elbow and golfer’s elbow are possible injuries that can affect your elbow and the surrounding muscles from overuse, but they may have slightly different side effects and causes.
The biggest difference between the two conditions is where they affect the elbow. With the right information about each, you can take the proper steps toward treatment and prevention to reduce your chances of being sidelined for an extensive period.
AtIncrediwear, we have laid out all you need to know about the differences between tennis elbow and golfer’s elbow.
What Is Tennis Elbow?
Tennis elbow, also known as lateral epicondylitis, is an injury due to overuse of the tendons and muscles surrounding the elbow. This condition can result from inflammation in the tendons or even tiny tears.
Tennis elbow can affect your wrist, forearm, and elbow. Several motions can stress these parts of your arm, like swinging a tennis racket and even using a paintbrush. Repetitive motions are more likely to lead to overuse symptoms that affect your elbow and the surrounding tissue.
Despite the name, tennis elbow can affect more than just tennis players. The injury may affect anyone who uses a similar motion to tennis players, including other athletes and people with repetitive jobs — for example, plumbers, cooks, and painters.
Doctors diagnose tennis elbow based on your side effects, some simple tests, and an understanding of your activity. Signs that you may be experiencing tennis elbow include:
- Difficulty shaking hands or gripping objects.
- Pain in your forearm or around the outside of your elbow.
- Weakness in your grip or in your forearm.
These symptoms could also be signs of more serious conditions, so you should consult your doctor for a proper diagnosis. A doctor can rule out fractures and tears through more targeted medical imaging.
Tennis elbow is most often the result of overuse of the tendons surrounding your elbow. This overuse is usually due to repetitive motions of the elbow or wrist. Some of the most common causes of tennis elbow are poor stroke technique during racket sports and repetitive motions, like using tools or cooking.
These motions cause stress on the tissues in the elbow, including the formation of small tears in the tendons connecting the forearm muscles to the elbow. These tears are more likely to occur with repeated forearm muscle contraction, which helps you straighten and raise your hand and wrist.
As with any injury, the first step to treatment is to rest the injury and apply ice. You should apply ice to your elbow in 15-minute intervals when the injury arises, taking the ice pack on and off. Ice will help relieve inflammation in the elbow and help control circulation to the area.
On top of the ice, rest is one of the most important parts of a proper treatment program. Taking time away from activity can give your body time to heal and repair the tendons and muscles surrounding your elbow.
Over-the-counter medications can provide additional help to reduce inflammation and provide temporary pain relief.
As you work back into activity, it may be helpful to wear a brace to provide additional support to your elbow, relieve the load-bearing, and minimize the range of motion. Wearing a brace can help to prevent hyperextension and further injury.
Although it can be challenging for an athlete, try not to rush back into your activity. Before jumping back onto the court or course, you should try to test your motion, whether that is your tennis swing or you’re the motion required for your job.
If you feel pain, you should rest longer, but if the motion is comfortable, you may be able to ease back into activity.
What Is Golf Elbow?
Golf elbow, also known as golfer’s elbow or medial epicondylitis, is a painful condition caused by the arm's overuse of tendons and muscles. This overuse occurs through the repetitive motion that leads to inflammation or small tears in the tendons.
The effects of golfer’s elbow typically affect the inner parts of the arm, causing pain in this area, as it affects the tendons that connect your forearm muscles to the part of the bone on the inside of your elbow.
Just like tennis elbow, golfer’s elbow is not limited to golfers, and it can affect anyone who engages in activities or sports that may strain the elbow. You can also strain your elbow with overuse of the wrist or consistent clenching of your fingers.
If you are experiencing elbow pain, it may be hard to diagnose whether it is the result of golfer’s elbow or another more serious issue. However, certain side effects combined with understanding your activity and medical history can provide a potentially more accurate diagnosis.
Some of the most common side effects of golfer’s elbow are:
- Pain and tenderness on the inner part of your elbow.
- Stiffness or difficulty making a fist.
- Feelings of weakness in your hands or wrists.
- Numbness or tingling that runs down your harm and into your fingers.
For a proper diagnosis, you should see your doctor. The healthcare provider can rule out any other potential causes of the pain, like a fracture or arthritis, through an x-ray or MRI.
They may also be able to provide a diagnosis based on your levels of pain and stiffness and how you respond to different types of pressure. Your doctor will likely ask you to perform range-of-motion exercises to determine whether your joint or muscles have any limitations in their ability to move.
If you suspect your injury may be more than golfer’s elbow, you should seek professional medical advice immediately. Some of the signs that you may need more than rest from activity are:
- The inability to bend your elbow.
- Your elbow looks deformed.
- Unbearable pain.
- Your elbow is inflamed, and your whole body feels weak, or you have a fever.
Like tennis elbow, golf elbow can occur during sports and everyday activities, especially in some occupations. Some of the specific activities, in addition to golf that can lead to golfer’s elbow include:
- Racket sports.
- Throwing sports.
- Weight training with improper form.
- Repetitive motions in occupations like construction, carpentry, and plumbing.
Repetitive motions like swinging a golf club or a tennis racket can generally lead to golf elbow if you are not careful. Still, it is more common when you use the improper form in all of the above situations. If you experience even the slightest pain during practice, you should consult a coach or fellow athlete about your form.
Golfer’s elbow is typically the result of repetitive motions over several hours throughout several days. As a result, correcting form issues or starting to rest as soon as pain starts can help prevent further injury. Playing through the pain will almost always result in more harm than good.
As with tennis elbow, your first step if you suspect golfer’s elbow is to ice the area in 15-minute intervals. Rest is the most important part of atreatment plan for golfer’s elbow.
For most people, the symptoms of start to subside after adequate rest. Everyone is different, but it may take anywhere from a few days to a few weeks before the issue corrects itself.
Over-the-counter medications may also help to reduce the inflammation around the elbow and provide temporary pain relief throughout healing.
If the pain persists for longer than a brief period, you may need additional support. Wearing an elbow brace orwrapping it can help support your elbow and reduce the force and strain exerted on your elbow during activity.
A physical therapy approach can also help provide relief. Targeted exercise can strengthen and stretch the muscles around your elbow to give it extra support.
You should avoid activity that puts stress on your elbow for as long as you feel pain unless your doctor or physical therapist tells you otherwise. Jumping back into your sport can prolong the healing process and worsen the condition.
What Are the Risk Factors?
Certain factors can put you at a higher risk for developing either tennis elbow or golf elbow. If you have any of the following risk factors, you should be careful while playing sports. You are at higher risk if you:
- Are over 40 years old.
- Use your wrist or elbow extensively during sports.
- Repeat the activity for two hours or more per day.
- Smoke cigarettes.
- Are overweight or obese.
These factors can increase your risk for golf and tennis elbow, but anyone can experience these conditions in response to the overactivity of certain motions. Tennis elbow is also more common in certain occupations, like plumbers, painters, carpenters, butchers, and cooks.
How Can I Reduce the Risk of an Elbow Injury?
Repetitive activity can take a toll on your elbow, which is hard to avoid. However, you can take a few steps to protect yourself against these conditions. To provide yourself with extra support, you should:
Strengthen your forearms. Your forearm muscles provide vital support to your elbow. Incorporate exercises that use light weights or squeeze a stress ball to strengthen your forearms and protect against injury.
Stretch before activity. Make sure to warm up before starting an activity. Start with a light jog to warm up your muscles and do some simple stretches to improve flexibility throughout the body before jumping right in.
Use proper form. Poor form is one of the biggest contributors to tennis and golfer’s elbow. Talk to fellow athletes or instructors to get constructive feedback on your form and technique.
Lift carefully. Lifting heavy objects, whether for work or weight training, can strain your elbows. Keep your wrist locked to minimize the force put on your elbow when lifting.
Rest when necessary. Overusing your elbow is the most significant factor leading to both conditions. Recovery time is crucial in any sport. Resting frequently, taking breaks, and following a consistent sleep routine
- Choose the right equipment. Using golf clubs or a tennis racket that is too heavy can put unnecessary strain on your elbow. Working too hard to grip a club is also detrimental. Make sure you can grip, lift, and use your equipment comfortably to avoid any issues.
In addition to practicing these habits, you should strive to include targeted exercise into your daily routine, especially if you do activities that put you at greater risk of tennis or golf elbow. Targeted exercises can help strengthen the muscles around your elbow and improve mobility, reducing your risk for an elbow injury.
These exercises should focus on wrist, elbow, and shoulder flexion while strengthening the biceps and triceps.
Stay Ahead of The Game
Both tennis elbow and golfer’s elbow can be uncomfortable and take a toll on your capability. Fortunately, when you understand the signs and symptoms, you can take the proper steps to treat the injury and prevent it from arising again.
Whether you play tennis or golf or have a physical job, taking care of your elbow and your body as a whole is crucial.Incrediwear has your back along the way.
Our unique, medically proven products can help provide extra support and soothe discomfort by promoting healthy circulation to the target area while supporting your mobility.
Explore our collection of products for yourself and discover the options available to help you take your game to the next level.
Golfer's elbow - Diagnosis and treatment | Mayo Clinic
Tennis elbow - Symptoms and causes | Mayo Clinic