The golf season is in full swing and with it comes elbow injuries. There are a number of conditions that affect the elbow area. The three most common conditions are lateral epicondylitis (tennis elbow), medial epicondylitis (golfer’s elbow), and medial collateral ligament sprain (thrower’s elbow). The first two conditions are very similar, however, the first affects the outside of the elbow (lateral), and the second affects the inside of the elbow (medial). This article will address the treatment of medial epicondylitis, or as it is more commonly known, golfer’s elbow.
Before we can understand just what golfer’s elbow is, it is important to have a general understanding of the structure of the elbow joint, and how the muscles, tendons, ligaments and bones help the elbow joint to function.
Golfer’s elbow occurs when there is damage to the muscles, tendons and ligaments around the elbow joint and forearm. Small tears, called micro tears, form in the tendons and muscles which control the movement of the forearm. They cause a restriction of movement, inflammation and pain. These micro tears eventually lead to the formation of scar tissue and calcium deposits. If untreated, these scar tissues and calcium deposits can put so much pressure on the muscles and nerves that they can cut off the blood flow and pinch the nerves responsible for controlling the muscles in the forearm.
By far, the most common cause of golfer’s elbow is overuse. Any action which places a repetitive and prolonged strain on the forearm muscles, coupled with inadequate rest, will tend to strain and overwork those muscles.
There are also many other causes, including a direct injury, such as a bump or fall onto the elbow. Poor technique will contribute to the condition, such as using poorly fitted equipment, like golf clubs, tennis rackets, work tools, etc.. Poor levels of general fitness and conditioning will also contribute.
Pain is the most common and obvious symptom associated with golfer’s elbow. Pain is most often experienced on the inside of the upper forearm, but can also be experienced anywhere from the elbow joint to the wrist. Weakness, stiffness and a general restriction of movement are also quite common in sufferers of golfer’s elbow. Even tingling and numbness can be experienced.
There are a number of preventative techniques which will help to prevent golfer’s elbow, including bracing and strapping, modifying equipment, taking extended rests and even learning new routines for repetitive activities. However, there are three preventative measures that are far more important, and effective, than any of these.
Firstly, a thorough and correct warm-up will help to prepare the muscles and tendons for any activity to come. Without a proper warm-up, the muscles and tendons will be tight and stiff. There will be limited blood flow to the forearm area, which will result in a lack of oxygen and nutrients for the muscles. This is a sure-fire recipe for a muscle or tendon injury.
Secondly, flexible muscles and tendons are extremely important in the prevention of most strain or sprain injuries. When muscles and tendons are flexible and supple, they are able to move and perform without being over stretched. If your muscles and tendons are tight and stiff, it is quite easy for those muscles and tendons to be pushed beyond their natural range of movement. When this happens, strains, sprains, and pulled muscles occur. To keep your muscles and tendons flexible and supple, it is important to undertake a structured stretching routine. Thirdly, strengthening and conditioning the muscles of the forearm and wrist will also help to prevent golfer’s elbow. There are a number of specific strengthening exercises you can do for these muscles.
Golfer’s elbow is a soft tissue injury of the muscles and tendons around the elbow joint, and therefore should be treated like any other soft tissue injury. Immediately following an injury, or at the onset of pain, the RICER regime should be employed. This involves rest, ice, compression, elevation, and referral to an appropriate professional for an accurate diagnosis. It is critical that the RICER regime be implemented for at least the first 48-72 hours. Doing this will give you the best possible chance of a complete and full recovery.
The next phase of treatment (after the first 48-72 hours) involves a number of physiotherapy techniques. The application of heat and massage is one of the most effective treatments for removing scar tissue and speeding up the healing process of the muscles and tendons. Once most of the pain has been reduced, it is time to move on to the rehabilitation phase of your treatment. The main aim of this phase is to regain the strength, power, endurance and flexibility of the muscle and tendons that have been injured.Resource: IDEA Fitness Journal