My elbow hurts- is it Tennis or Golfers elbow?

Not all elbow pain falls under one of these two categories – but they are quite common. The terms are thrown around a lot, but what do they really mean? If you don’t play either of these sports, how do you know what you have?

Tennis elbow is the more common name for the condition lateral epicondylitis. In the forearm, there are two main groups of muscles; those that extend the wrist, and those that flex it. A major group of those extensor muscles all come together into one tendon that inserts on the lateral (outside) of the elbow, on a bony prominence called the epicondyle. When these muscles are overused, you can end up with small tears or other microtrauma. This ends up with you having pain on the outside of your elbow and forearm that typically comes on slowly, and may even end up with weak grip strength on that arm. Common causes of this include tennis, golf, gardening, typing, videogames and musical instruments. It is common in plumbers, carpenters and electricians due to the nature of their work.

If tennis elbow refers to the extensor group of muscles, then it makes sense that golfers elbow involves the group of flexors on the inside of the elbow (medial epicondylitis). The mechanism of this type of injury is nearly the same, with pain worse during wrist flexion activities. Because of the proximity to the ulnar nerve, you may even get some tingling in the fourth and fifth fingers. Golfers elbow is common in overhead athletes (golf, baseball, racquet sports), factory workers, and those who work with vibrating tools. Because most activities require some involvement of both the flexor and extensor groups, there is a certain amount of overlap in the individuals who get these conditions.

What is important to note is that these injuries both come on slowly over time due to repetitive activities or overuse, they are not caused by trauma. If you are having pain anywhere on your elbow, it is important to make sure you have a full assessment to rule out other potential causes. Your chiropractor or other practitioner will perform a thorough history and physical exam, involving a number of special tests to identify if this is the injury that you have.

So if you have been diagnosed with either of these conditions, what happens next?

There are a number of treatment options, and what you end up doing will depend on both your practitioner and your own preferences. Common treatments include lifestyle modifications, soft tissue therapy (manual or instrument assisted), mobilizations of the elbow, modalities such as laser or ultrasound, acupuncture, and home stretches and exercises, and bracing. Not all of these components need to be involved for successful treatment, each individual case has different requirements.

The vast majority of patients respond very well to conservative care, and do not require further intervention. If you are having pain that sounds like this, get an evaluation to get you on the road to recovery.

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