Golfer’s elbow also known as medial epicondylitis is a condition in which certain tendons attached to the elbow become inflamed and swollen causing weakness, stiffness, and pain.
There are two bony prominences of the elbow: the medial epicondyle (side closest to the body) and the lateral epicondyle (opposite side). The medial epicondyle anchors the muscles that bend the wrist up when the palm of the hand is facing upward. These are the same muscles that aid in the hand squeezing and gripping motions.
Golfer’s elbow develops with repeated stress on the forearm tendons or repetitive gripping motions. Athletes who play in sports like golf, rock climbing, baseball, and weight training are more susceptible to golfer’s elbow. As a person ages, wear and tear can make the tendons lose some of its strength and integrity as well, which may result in golfer’s elbow. Underlying medical conditions like rheumatoid arthritis can also make one more susceptible to this injury.
Symptoms of golfer’s elbow generally include the following:
- Stiffness in elbow
- Weakness in wrist and/or hand
- Pain down forearm on the inside or even into the upper arm
- Tenderness on the side of the elbow closest to the body
area of pain and inflammation
There are ways to prevent golfer’s elbow. Regular stretching and strengthening of your forearm muscles and wrist can help with elbow stability. Even exercises like squeezing a tennis ball, focusing on your ring and pinky fingers can strengthen your muscles. You might also try slowly curling up the wrist with a light resistance band and bending your elbow to ninety degrees or more. Strengthening exercises will help you better able to absorb sudden impact.
Dr. Stowell will diagnose golfer’s elbow with a physical examination. He will ask you to straighten your elbow and flex your wrist, palm facing up. He may order an MRI to confirm his diagnosis.
Nonsurgical treatment options for golfer’s elbow include:
- Anti-inflammatory medication
- Elbow bracing
- Physical therapy
Dr. Stowell may recommend surgery if conservative treatment options have been exhausted. During surgery, Dr. Stowell will likely make an incision on the side part of your elbow, allowing him to see the tendon that attached to your bone. He will clean up and remove any scar tissue and inflammation at the site, and further evaluate and repair the damage to the tendon if necessary. Medical epicondyle repair is an outpatient procedure, which means you will go home the day of surgery. Dr. Stowell will give you specific instructions to manage your pain at home. He may place your elbow in a splint for up to one week after surgery, and then replace the splint with a sling for another three weeks during recovery, if needed. Typically, recovery time after surgery may last from four to six months.
Dr. Stowell will work with his Physical Therapy team to help restore your range of motion after about four weeks post-surgery.