Christopher Lords, DPT
Golfer’s elbow, also known as medial epicondylitis, is a common condition where pain is
experienced on the inside of the elbow. It is usually experienced as tenderness to the inside of the elbow, and pain reproduction with gripping, grasping, and twisting. Golfer’s elbow is brought on by repetitive tasks that require a lot of wrist and finger flexion, gripping, and twisting. Because of this, this condition often affects construction workers and other manual laborers with 64% of cases stemming from work activities requiring repetitive use of the hands and handling of heavy loads. As the name implies, this condition also frequently affects golfers, most commonly between 40-50 years old, and most commonly men. Another population frequently affected are adolescent baseball players.
Symptoms of golfer’s elbow will typically get progressively worse over time, and are usually
triggered by a recent increase in the amount of repetitive tasks performed. That could be in early
spring when the weather is finally nice enough and you get to play the first few rounds of golf or
pickleball games of the year. Or it could be a recent change in your job duties that require you to
do different or more gripping, grasping, and twisting. There are often strength or mobility
limitations in the hand, shoulder, and back that are putting increased load into the elbow.
Lifestyle factors also go into each individual's pain experience and can influence their recovery
either for better or worse. These include stress levels, sleep quality/quantity, and nutrition.
This condition comes down to the muscles/tendons that attach to the inside of your elbow not
being able to handle the loads that you are putting on them. When you perform repetitive tasks
with unconditioned muscles you are doing two things: pushing them past their limits today, and
not giving them enough rest to heal tomorrow. There is nothing wrong with overworking a
muscle one time. Anyone familiar with exercise has probably done that a time or two in their
life. When we give the muscle adequate time to recover, it doesn’t become a chronic issue. The
problem starts when the muscle can’t recover before the next bout of work.
Generally when training your body, you want to give each muscle group 48 hours rest in between
resistance training sessions. This provides adequate time for the body to not only repair damage
done, but also build the muscles more robust than before. When we perform repetitive
work/recreational activities, we don’t give the muscles the time they need. This is also where the
lifestyle factors mentioned above come into play. High levels of stress keep the body in fight or
flight mode and reduces the body’s ability to rest and recover. In recent studies, it has been
shown that reduced sleep quantity is a predictor of pain. It has also been shown that reduced
sleep quantity can be used to predict future injuries in college athletes. Your diet can work to
enhance your healing with adequate protein intake and non-inflammatory foods, or it can work to slow down the healing process.
Things you can do to help yourself heal:
● Temporarily reduce the aggravating activities
● Incorporate strengthening of the wrist and hand flexors as symptoms tolerate
● Work on other strength or mobility limitations in the rest of your body
● Get between 7-9 hours of sleep per night
● Reduce inflammatory foods like processed sugar, soda, and high fat foods.
● Be patient
Golfer’s elbow usually takes time to heal. It is important to create a healing environment and
allow time and strength training to work. Oftentimes there will be a reduction in pain with initial
activity modification, but when the pain goes away is not the time to stop working on the
strength. If you don’t address the underlying weakness, the condition may return. If you aren’t
sure how to assess your strength and mobility deficits, or you’re having continued pain, stop by
and have a physical therapist evaluate the problem. This is a common condition treated at
Recover Physical Therapy and we love helping you get you back to the activities you love!