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Back behind the wheel: Tennis elbow versus golfer’s elbow

In last month's article, I addressed carpal tunnel syndrome. This month, we are moving up the arm to the elbow and I am going to clear up the difference between Tennis Elbow and Golfer's Elbow. Althou...

Dr. Christopher Singh

Dr. Christopher Singh

In last month’s article, I addressed carpal tunnel syndrome. This month, we are moving up the arm to the elbow and I am going to clear up the difference between Tennis Elbow and Golfer’s Elbow. Although these two conditions may seem similar, they are very different. After reading this article, you will be able to tell the difference between the two conditions as well as know the basics about their causes and treatments.

Let’s begin with the more common of the two, tennis elbow.

In fact, tennis elbow, or lateral epicondylitis, is the most common injury in patients seeking medical attention for elbow pain. Although the exact cause of tennis elbow is unknown, most scientists agree that it is due to small tears of the tendons that attach forearm muscles to the arm bone at the elbow joint.

The main muscle group that is involved in this condition function to extend the wrist and fingers. The reason that it is called tennis elbow is that this muscle group is very active during the backhand shot in tennis and as a result is very common in this sport. Patients with tennis elbow experience pain on the outside of the elbow that is worsened by grasping objects and cocking back the wrist.

The pain associated with this condition usually has a gradual onset, but it may also come on suddenly.

People who work with their hands are at greater risk of developing tennis elbow. Occupations that may lead to tennis elbow include plumbers, painters, gardeners, and carpenters. In my practice I have noticed that truck drivers who haul flatbeds are also at a greater risk of developing this condition.

There are several treatments for tennis elbow. In most causes, they start off conservatively and work up to more invasive treatments. The good news is that non-surgical treatments are successful in over 90% of cases.

The most common form of treatment is lifestyle modification. It is simple, stop doing the activities that are aggravating the tendons. Elbow braces and exercises are also suggested at this time.

If this is not successful, then anti-inflammatory medications are usually prescribed. If oral anti-inflammatory drugs are not successful than a steroid (cortisone) injection is a reasonable option. Finally, if all else fails than surgery will be considered. There are several possible surgical treatments that have been successful. These include removing a portion of the damaged tendon or releasing the attachment of the affected tendon. Surgery to release the damaged tendon is usually successful.

Now that you know all about tennis elbow, let’s talk a little about golfer’s elbow. This condition, also know as medial epicondylitis is due to inflammation and irritation of the inner side of the elbow, where the tendons of the forearm muscles attach to the bony bump. In some cases the pain my radiate into the forearm and wrist.

As you can see, golfers elbow is similar to tennis elbow but it occurs on the inside rather than the outside of the elbow. This condition is caused by damage to the muscles and tendons that flex the wrist and fingers. The damage is usually related to excess or repetitive stress on these muscles. The same people who are at risk for tennis elbow are at risk for golfer’s elbow. The pain of golfer’s elbow may appear suddenly or gradually. The pain may get worse when you swing a golf club, shake hands, flex your wrist towards your forearm.

The sooner your begin treatment, the sooner you will be able to return to your normal activities. The treatment protocol for this condition is very similar to that of tennis elbow. In most cases, rest and ice will do the trick. However, if the condition persists or worsens, surgery may be an option. Depending of the severity of your condition, the symptoms may linger for up several months. So, be patient. Until next month, drive safely!

– Dr. Christopher Singh, B. Kin., D.C., runs Trans Canada Chiropractic at 230 Truck Stop in Woodstock, Ont. He can be reached at 519-421-2024.

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3 Comments » for Back behind the wheel: Tennis elbow versus golfer’s elbow
  1. Dan J. says:

    I know that I am dealing with Tennis Elbow in both arms and think it has also turned into golfers elbow. For the. Longest time I used arm rests only to find out that it is what has caused my problems in the first place. I am dealing with a lot of pain even though I am using braces and medication. It is not fun.

  2. Virginia says:

    The main function of the brace is to support the damaged tendon while it is healing. We take a look a the most common types of tennis elbow braces below. Clicking on any of the products below will take you to the website
    where you can find further details on each brace.

  3. Susan Swan says:

    I have had chronic tennis elbow on my left side since my mid 20’s. Physiotherapy has done nothing. I got a couple of years of relief with a cortisone shot in my 30’s. I had another shot 6 weeks ago and it’s already coming back. You mention that it has to do with the muscles involved with wrist flexion. I sprained my left wrist in a bike accident as a teen and it’s never been the same. I eventually developed a ganglion which went away without surgery and more recent xrays show arthritis. Just wonder if I did physiotherapy or got a cortisone injection in my wrist if this would help the tennis elbow?

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