Tightly gripping your steering wheel over years and many miles can take a toll on your elbows and cause golfer’s elbow, even if you’ve never swung a golf club.
Golfer’s elbow is a painful condition that affects the elbow where your forearm muscles attach to the bony bump on the inside of your elbow, causing pain that sometimes radiates into your wrist and forearm.
Although this condition is common for golfers, rock climbers, and baseball pitchers, it also affects truck drivers, plumbers, construction workers, and others who excessively or repeatedly use their wrists, clench their fists and/or engage in frequent, grip-intensive activities.
For truckers, it’s the tight grip exerted by your fingers, along with wrist torsion while steering over long distances, that stresses the tendon that attaches the forearm muscle to your elbow, causing pain, tenderness, stiffness, weakness, numbness and/or tingling in your fingers.
Golfer’s elbow can be caused by any activity in which you repeatedly bend and straighten your elbow for more than an hour a day over many days, especially if you are 40 or older, overweight and smoke.
Although the symptoms of golfer’s elbow may appear gradually or suddenly, the following activities may exacerbate the condition: tightening or loosening a fuel cap, shifting gears, shaking hands, turning a door knob, flexing your wrist, lifting weights, squeezing or pitching a ball, and/or swinging a golf club or a racquet.
If left untreated, golfer’s elbow can lead to chronic elbow pain, a reduced range of elbow motion and even a lasting, fixed bend in your elbow. Fortunately, there are many effective options for self-treatment. Since you still need to work, taking time off for complete rest is probably not an option. However, even when driving, you can take the strain off your affected elbow by wearing a counter-force brace or an elastic bandage.
To reduce pain, consider using over-the-counter pain relief like ibuprofen (Advil, Motrin IB and others), naproxen sodium (Aleve and others) or acetaminophen (Tylenol and others) and/or a topical, deep penetrating hot/cold cream (Medistik and others).
Between loads, ice your inner elbow for 15 to 20 minutes, three or four times per day. (To protect your skin, be sure to wrap the ice pack in thin cloth).
To keep your elbow limber, try the following stretching exercises: Extend your affected arm in front of you, palms up. Bend your elbow to a 90-degree angle and turn your hand towards you. Move your fingers and thumb towards each other to make a ‘quacking duck’ movement. Repeat this ‘quacking duck’ exercise 20 times, three to five times a day.
Another stretch that works well is called the wrist flexor stretch. For this stretch, extend your affected arm straight in front of you with your fingers pointing up and your palm facing outward. With your other hand, pull your fingers gently back toward you and hold for 30 seconds. Repeat five times at least three times per day.
You could also try an exercise for forearm pronation and supination. With your affected elbow at your side, bend that elbow 90 degrees, and keeping your elbow at your side, turn your palm up and hold for five seconds. Then, slowly turn your palm down and hold for five seconds. Be sure that your elbow stays at your side, bent at 90 degrees for this exercise. Do two sets of 15 repetitions.
For persistent golfer’s elbow, surgery is occasionally recommended. Take steps to avoid it. Before pulling out with your first load, warm up your elbow joint by doing a few ‘quacking duck’ stretches. Regularly exercise to strengthen your forearm muscles – carry a tennis ball in your rig and squeeze it 50 to 100 times over each day. If you are prone to elbow pain, keep an elbow brace/elastic bandage handy and support your elbow at the first twinge of pain.
Get a grip on your future elbow strength by taking these measures today.
Karen Bowen is a professional health and nutrition consultant, and she can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.