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Tennis or Golfer’s Elbow; which one is yours?

05 May 2016

Tennis elbow is a relatively common condition, affecting around 5% of the population, and occurs in both men and women equally. Golfer’s elbow is less common, with the incidence being about one fifth of that of tennis elbow. Both conditions are more prevalent in people over the age of 40.

Tennis elbow and golfer’s elbow are overuse injuries of the forearm tendons. Tennis elbow causes pain around the outside of the elbow whereas golfer’s elbow causes pain on the inside of the elbow. In both cases, symptoms can spread to the forearm. Contrary to belief, you don’t need to be a golfer or a tennis player to suffer from these injuries as only 5% of people developing these conditions do so from playing racquet sports.

Symptoms
As tennis elbow pain is focused around the outside of the elbow, this tends to be more intense when extending the wrist backwards against a force, for example when opening a jar or lifting something out of a briefcase or handbag. Many people suffering with tennis elbow also struggle to extend the affected arm fully and experience stiffness and a weak grip especially first thing in the morning.

People suffering with golfer’s elbow experience pain on the inner side of their elbow and this can extend to the inner side of the forearm. Other symptoms of golfer’s elbow include stiffness, weakness in the hand or wrist and numbness that can radiate into one or more of the fingers. There might also be pain when making a fist. Symptoms can intensify when you flex your wrist, shake hands, swing a sports club or squeeze a ball.

Causes
Your elbow joint is surrounded by muscles that not only move your elbow, but also control the movement of your forearm and wrist as well. The tendons in the elbow join the muscles and bones together and control the forearm muscles. If the tendons become damaged by overuse they cause the symptoms of tennis or golfer’s elbow.

In the case of golfer’s elbow, symptoms develop when the muscles and tendons controlling the forearm and wrists become damaged. This damage typically relates to excess or repeated stress, particularly forceful wrist movements. Golfer’s elbow can also be caused by racquet sports, as well as throwing sports and weight training, particularly if the equipment used is too heavy or inaccurately sized. The condition can be caused by any activity that involves using your forearm or repeatedly extending your wrist, such as decorating, typing, gardening or playing instruments.

Treatment
Tennis elbow and golfer’s elbow are self-limiting conditions that usually get better over time, by resting the arm and avoiding overuse. Both conditions can take from a few months to a couple of years to properly heal, with approximately 90% of sufferers making a full recovery within a year.

You can help to reduce pain and swelling by icing the area, and anti-inflammatory pain relievers may be of use in the first four weeks. However, it is important to seek medical attention if the condition does not show improvement.

A specialist may recommend the following treatments:

  • Physiotherapy to remodel the tendons and specific exercises that strengthen your forearm muscles is the most important first line of treatment.
  • Injections – PRP (platelet rich plasma) injections may help to speed up healing of the affected areas. Steroid injections will provide short term pain relief but the recurrence of pain commonly occurs and long term pain may result.
  •  might be required for severe cases of tennis and golfer’s elbow that do not respond to any other treatments. Surgeons who specialise in elbow surgery tend to have the highest success rates. Key-hole and open surgical techniques can be used.

For more information or to book an appointment please call 01625 545 073.

Professor Adam Watts is an Elbow, Wrist and Hand Consultant at The Arm Clinic at HCA The Wilmslow Hospital, 52 Alderley Road.

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