Tennis Elbow vs. Golfer’s Elbow: Everything you need to know

by Governor's Park Chiropractic | Sep 29, 2023 | Chiropractic, Wellness

For an avid tennis player or a golf enthusiast, the swing of the racket or the strike of the ball is more than just a game — it’s a passion. Both sports can be done at a very high level, but the beauty of tennis and golf is that people of all ages can enjoy them. Golf and tennis are both sports that most people can participate in as they age because they’re relatively safe. The operative words here are “relatively safe.” While you won’t have to worry about another player charging you or knocking you to the ground, injuries still happen on the court and the fairway.

On the tennis court, you might pick up a few scratches and bruises if you happen to fall, but the most common injuries in tennis and golf don’t happen through accidents. No, they happen over time through the repeated use of certain muscles and tendons. If you’ve ever experienced pain in your elbow after a game, you might be familiar with tennis elbow or golfer’s elbow. The two injuries are similar, and both are treatable. Yet, there are differences that make their treatment unique.

What is Tennis Elbow

Tennis elbow, known medically as lateral epicondylitis, is an overuse injury that affects the tendons on the outside (lateral side) of the elbow. Contrary to its name, it doesn’t solely affect tennis players. Anyone who indulges in repetitive wrist and arm motions can develop this condition. Carpenters, who frequently use their forearm strength to drive nails into hard surfaces, are just as likely to get tennis elbow over time.

It occurs when the tendons that join the forearm muscles to the outer elbow bone become inflamed and painful. The primary muscle affected, extensor carpi radialis brevis (ECRB), helps stabilize the wrist when the elbow is straight. This muscle runs from the elbow all the way to the middle finger, which is why those with tennis elbow will experience discomfort in that specific finger.

What is Golfer’s Elbow

Golfer’s elbow, or medial epicondylitis, is an injury that affects the tendons on the inside (medial side) of the elbow. While it’s named after the sport that frequently sees this injury, it’s not exclusive to golfers. Any repetitive activity that involves gripping, rotating the arm, or flexing the wrist can lead to golfer’s elbow.

This condition arises when the tendons connecting the forearm muscles to the inside of the bone at the elbow joint become inflamed and cause pain. Golfer’s elbow mainly affects the pronator teres and the flexor carpi radialis muscles. The latter muscle runs through the inside of the forearm, causing discomfort in the wrist and pinkie finger.

Similarities and Differences between Tennis Elbow and Golfer’s Elbow

Tennis elbow and golfer’s elbow are injuries on the opposite sides of the same coin. Tennis elbow affects the outside of the elbow, while golfer’s elbow affects the inside. Tennis elbow is often seen in activities that involve repeated backhand strokes or poor form in tennis serves. Conversely, golfer’s elbow is commonly seen in golfers with an improper grip or technique.

However, both injuries can happen to anyone. They both are caused by repetitive strain on the tendons of the forearm, and they both cause discomfort along the forearm and the wrist. The symptoms are different, but what matters is that the two ailments are treated similarly.

Avoiding and Treating Tennis Elbow and Golfer’s Elbow

Aside from putting a stop to repetitive use of the forearm, there’s nothing you can do to completely avoid these injuries. Your body may have a higher or lower tolerance for these conditions than others, but that doesn’t mean you can’t take steps to reduce the risk of elbow injury. So what can you do:

Tips to Avoid Tennis and Golfer’s Elbow

  • Stretch and warm up: Stretching and warming up your muscles is taking a page right out of the professional athlete training book. Spend a few minutes before strenuous use of the forearm to allow your muscles to prepare.
  • Stay hydrated: Drinking plenty of water is always a good thing, but in this case, being hydrated can result in muscles with more flexibility. A muscle that is too tense from dehydration is at a higher risk for tears, which is what causes tennis elbow and golfer’s elbow.
  • Use the right equipment: Using a racket or club that’s too heavy can put additional stress on your forearm, so use equipment that feels more comfortable to reduce the risk of injury.
  • Rest: After a match or a round of golf, listen to your body. If you’re still aching the next time you’re thinking of playing, maybe take a rain check until you feel better.

Tips to Treat Tennis and Golfer’s Elbow

  • Use heat and cold packs: Alternating between ice packs and heat packs will allow your muscles to recover faster. Ice helps to reduce inflammation and lessen pain, while heat packs improve the flow of blood and, therefore, oxygen to your muscles, which can help repair damaged tissue and improve flexibility.
  • Use a brace: Using a brace can prevent the injury from worsening. There are elbow braces made specifically to treat each condition.
  • Physical therapy: An experienced physical therapist can help get your elbow back into playing shape through various physical therapy exercises and techniques, including
  • Medication: Nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) can provide temporary relief.

Get Back to Playing with Governor’s Park Chiropractic

Both tennis elbow and golfer’s elbow arise from overuse and repetitive strain, but with the right care, recovery is very attainable. Remember, it’s essential to give your body the rest it needs and ensure you’re using the proper technique in whatever activity you’re engaging in.

If you think you’re suffering from either of these conditions, seeking physical therapy early can make a difference in your treatment and recovery time. Contact Governor’s Park Chiropractic Lone Tree at (303) 831-1122 to schedule a physical therapy session. Your elbow will thank you!

Owner at Governor’s Park Chiropractic | (720) 386-4302 | Website | + posts

Governor's Park Chiropractic is the Colorado chiropractor team dedicated to helping individuals get out of pain and achieve better health. Offering a range of services and treatment options to meet the specific needs of each patient.