First off, you don’t have to be a golfer to have golfer’s elbow. This condition, known medically as medial epicondylitis, is a type of repetitive strain injury that can develop through any sort of repetitious swinging motions in the arm, such as: chopping wood, pitching a baseball, gardening, shoveling, hammering a nail - any activity that puts repeated strain on the tendon connecting your wrist flexor muscles to your elbow. Continuous strain, injury, scar tissue, or inflammation can cause degeneration of the tendon
and the buildup of abnormal collagen fibers which define the syndrome.
Pain associated with golfer’s elbow, naturally, starts with aching or tenderness at the elbow, but can also radiate down the forearm. Twisting the forearm or grasping things can become painful, making it difficult to perform the associated repetitive motions and even simple daily tasks such as picking objects up, writing, or opening and closing doors. So, a relatively minor condition can have devastating consequences on everyday quality of life and the ability to carry out one’s responsibilities. Therefore, proper treatment of golfer’s elbow is essential for quick healing and a return to normal tendon function.
Physical therapy for golfer’s elbow may involve using tape or an elbow strap to relieve pressure from the area, and icing or mild electrical stimulation to ease pain and allow the tendon to heal. The most important thing to do to treat golfer’s elbow, however, is simply allow the tendon to rest. In physical therapy, you may learn positions to rest your arm in and ways to perform certain actions without irritating the joint. Most significantly, you should avoid certain motions completely to ensure the condition isn’t aggravated even further.
Weight lifting: Weight training exercises generally involve repeated motions, and those that include bending the elbows, especially curls and bench-pressing, can put excessive strain on the elbow flexors. Best to work on strengthening your legs while you wait for your arm to heal.
Chin-ups: This arm-strengthening exercise puts a lot of stress on your elbows as the whole weight of your body is pulled upward through your elbows. Many people claim to have developed golfer’s elbow through repeated chin-ups.
Push-ups: Another exercise that involves moving the weight of your body through your elbow joints. Better to hold off on these while your elbow is recovering.
Over-gripping: It’s embarrassing to throw your golf club or tennis racquet as you take a swing, but keeping an extra tight grip on a piece of equipment can place undue stress on your arm muscles and tendons.
Improper load carrying: As the old adage goes, “lift with your knees, not with your back.” It’s best to stay away from heavy lifting altogether if you can, but sometimes our daily lives make it necessary. So, if you’re carrying groceries into the house or lifting other heavy objects, pick them up by bending down with your knees then rising up with straight arms, rather than lifting by bending your elbows.
Rowing: This sport consists of continuous rotation of the elbow and strain from pulling oars.
Golfing: It may seem obvious, but whichever activity (or activities) caused the golfer’s elbow to develop in the first place, best to stay away from them for a while!
The goal of resting during golfer’s elbow recovery is to avoid doing anything that aggravates your injury. Therefore, if any exercise, stretch, or motion makes your arm or elbow hurt, don’t do it! Other pointers from people who have successfully recovered from golfer’s elbow are to use lighter weights during strength training and to use straps to relieve some of the tension on your arm joints when exercising. Also, just like the advice for leg stretches, you should avoid bending your elbows past a 90° angle to keep from putting excessive strain on the tendon. Finally, bending the wrist can put strain on the injured tendon as well, so try to avoid any activities that include repetitious motions of the elbow or wrist, especially those in which the wrist is bent downward from a neutral position.
To help prevent golfer’s elbow in the first place, when starting any type of exercise routine, make sure to ease into it so as not to place too much pressure on your joints before they have had a chance to build up strength. It is also a good idea to include flexibility stretches in your routine, as these can help your joints absorb stress that is placed on them. A physiotherapist can help you develop a routine of stretches that will help prevent injuries, or help you recover if you have already been injured. At Blue Hills Sports & Spine Rehabilitation, we offer specialized and custom treatment options in Plymouth, MA for those who suffer from golfer’s elbow. All you have to do is book your assessment here or give us a call at (508) 747-6600 to book your initial evaluation.