Mother Nature has been very kind to the Buffalo area this year. The fair weather has allowed people to frequently enjoy their favorite outdoor activities. Unfortunately, this can sometimes lead to overuse injuries, such as tennis elbow and golfer’s elbow. Patients ask, “What is the difference between tennis elbow and golfer’s elbow?” There are several distinct differences between the two injuries, and the sport you play isn’t one of them! Despite the name, you don’t have to be a tennis player or golfer to develop these pesky injuries.
Tennis elbow and golfers elbow are injuries which occur from repetitive stress to the elbow joint. When too much force is placed on the elbow, the muscles become inflamed- leading to pain and dysfunction. The two diagnoses are not created equally… Tennis elbow occurs approximately five times more frequently than golfer’s elbow (1). Also, these conditions effect women more frequently than men. How can you develop tennis or golfers elbow without playing either sport?
Tennis elbow, also known as lateral epicondylitis, is an inflammation of the tendons that attach to the outside portion of your elbow. The nick name comes from the backhand swing of a tennis racket, which uses a lot of force from the top of your forearm muscles (the wrist extensors). However, any repetitive motion which requires excessive use of the wrist extensors can lead to injury. The most common symptoms associated with tennis elbow are pain and burning along the outer portion of your elbow, forearm, and weakened grip strength.
Certain professions increase the susceptibility of developing lateral epicondylitis. Carpenters and painters may develop tennis elbow from the repeated use of a hammer or paint brush. Auto workers and cooks are also susceptible from the daily use of their forearm muscles at work. Even computer workers can be at increased risk if their hand positions are incorrect while typing.
Golfer’s elbow, known as medial epicondylitis, is an inflammation of the tendons that attach on the inside portion of your elbow. The nick name here comes from the repetitive grip and twist which golfers use while swinging a club. The muscles affected are known as the wrist flexors. Common symptoms include pain and tenderness at the inside portion of the elbow, difficulty lifting, pain while twisting your forearm, or pain when squeezing to make a fist.
Just like with tennis elbow, you can develop golfer’s elbow without being a golfer. Other athletes that can develop golfer’s elbow include baseball players, bowlers, weightlifters, and strangely, tennis players(1)! Similarly, carpenters and painters are also at risk of developing golfer’s elbow due to consistent work with tools. Plumbers, gardeners, and landscapers are other professions that may develop golfer’s elbow from their daily work activities.
How can you prevent yourself from developing one of these injuries? The key is using proper body mechanics. The elbow is a small joint, with small muscles attached to it. Our shoulder is a much stronger and more powerful joint. Making sure to use your whole arm during work tasks and sports can help reduce the stress on the elbow muscles. By using your strong shoulder and core msucles, the elbow muscles don’t have to work as hard, thus protecting them from injury.
Also, when symptoms start to develop, give your elbow and wrist a rest. Icing the inflamed area and taking an anti-inflammatory medication may help to reduce your symptoms and allow the elbow to “calm down.” Don’t let elbow pain slow you down, seeing a physical therapist can help get you back into the “swing” of things (pun intended)!
(1) Lateral and medial epicondylitis: Role of occupational factors
Shiri, Rahman et al.
Best Practice & Research Clinical Rheumatology, Volume 25 , Issue 1 , 43 – 57