Golfers and Tennis Elbow
While many people are familiar with the names of these conditions, there is less widespread understanding about how they differ. Both tennis elbow, or lateral epicondylitis, and golfer’s elbow, or medial epicondylitis, are injuries to the tendons attaching your forearm muscles to the bone at your elbow. The “epicondyle” part of epicondylitis refers to the bony bumps or protrusions at your elbow.
Lateral epicondylitis affects the tendons attached to the outer (lateral) side of your elbow, which are connected in turn to the muscles that extend your wrist backward and straighten your fingers. Medial epicondylitis affects tendons connected to the inner (medial) side of your elbow, which are attached to the muscles that flex your wrist and contract your fingers when you grip something.
Both injuries are usually the result of repetitive strain on the tendons, and although you don’t have to be a golfer or tennis player to experience them, the repeated forceful motions involved in both sports make them very common.
The anatomical structures involved in tennis elbow and golfer’s elbow are very similar and the symptoms are also similar, but they appear on opposite sides of the elbow and arm.
Common symptoms of tennis elbow include:
- Pain that radiates from the outside of your elbow and down your forearm
- Tenderness on the outside of your elbow
- Weakness in your forearm or a weak grip
- Pain when you grip things, twist something or, if you play tennis, especially with backhand strokes
Golfer’s elbow symptoms are similar, but occur on the inside of your arm and include:
- Pain and tenderness on the inside of your elbow
- Pain that radiates down your arm from the inside of your elbow
- Weakness in your hand or wrist
- Numbness or tingling in your ring and little fingers
- Pain when you grip or twist things
- Pain when you flex your wrist
Both tennis elbow and golfer's elbow symptoms usually start gradually and get worse over time. Both conditions are types of tendonitis, or inflammation of a tendon, and both are commonly caused by overuse. This may be due to excessive force on a regular basis (like hitting a tennis or golf ball) or due to other repetitive activities that involve the forearm muscles. The tendons over time can progress from inflammation, to partial thickness tears, and finally full thickness tears. Painters, plumbers, and carpenters or anyone performing repetitive gripping and lifting activities are also prone to both tennis and golfer’s elbow.
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