Golfer's Elbow vs. Tennis Elbow — How to Tell the Difference

Golfer's Elbow vs. Tennis Elbow — How to Tell the Difference

When you have unexplained musculoskeletal pain, it’s time to seek the help of an orthopedic specialist. 

Our board-certified orthopedic surgeons with Delta Orthopaedics & Sports Medicine in West Memphis, Arkansas, and Collierville, Tennessee, have years of experience treating orthopedic injuries and conditions. We treat many elbow injuries, and two of the most common complaints are tennis elbow and golfer’s elbow.

You’ve heard of tennis elbow and golfer’s elbow. They’re both overuse injuries, but what’s the difference? 

What is tennis elbow? 

Tennis elbow is inflammation of the tendons that connect your forearm muscles to the elbow bone. You could have microtears in the tendon that are causing severe inflammation and pain. You’ve overused the tendons and muscles that connect to your elbow. 

The overuse weakens the forearm muscle that helps support your wrist. Since tendons and muscles connect, you now have tendonitis. 

Tennis elbow is characterized by pain on the outside of the elbow. Your arm may ache from your elbow down to your wrist. You likely have difficulty grasping or lifting objects and opening doors. 

When you play tennis, you grip your racquet tightly with your thumb and fingers. Over time, with frequent use, you can overuse the tendons and muscles that attach to your elbow bone. 

You don’t have to play tennis to get tennis elbow, however. Any repetitive motion that requires gripping with your thumb and fingers can lead to this overuse injury. Activities from gardening to cutting firewood can cause tennis elbow. Carpenters and other tradespeople are at risk for this injury. 

What is golfer’s elbow? 

Golfer’s elbow is also an inflammation of the tendons and muscles that connect to your elbow, but it affects those on the inside of the elbow instead of the outside, as with tennis elbow. If your pain is on the inside of your elbow, you have golfer’s elbow. 

Golfer’s elbow, like tennis elbow, is an overuse injury. This time, it’s a result of repeated flexing of your wrist. The injury gets its name because swinging a golf club twists the wrist. Any repetitive activity that involves wrist flexion can cause golfer’s elbow. Baseball players, weightlifters, and tradespeople are at risk of golfer’s elbow. 

You may have pain when you try to turn your forearm or close your fist. You may experience stiffness, swelling, and tenderness when you touch your skin. Your wrists and hands are weak and you may have a tingling sensation or numbness in your ring and little fingers. 

Treatment for tennis and golfer’s elbow 

You need to take a break from the activity that caused your inflammation. If it involves your job, we can provide a note to your employer. If you play sports, you need to stay off the court for a few weeks. 

Icing the area throughout the day helps relieve pain and swelling. Over-the-counter pain medications can help too, but they’re not meant for long-term use. 

If your pain is severe, we can administer a cortisone shot to help reduce the inflammation. We might also recommend platelet-rich plasma (PRP) therapy to help you heal. 

We may prescribe a specific type of elbow brace that eases pressure on the affected muscles and tendons. 

Once the inflammation has calmed, we may prescribe physical therapy to help you regain lost range of motion and strength. We offer it in-house, for your convenience. Although rarely needed, surgery is an option if other treatments haven’t worked. 

Call Delta Orthopaedics & Sports Medicine today or book an appointment online for expert diagnosis and treatment of any musculoskeletal injury. 

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