Medial Epicondylitis (better known as Golfer’s Elbow or GE for short) is a form of tendonitis. Essentially this is inflammation of the tendon that connects the grouping of muscles in the forearm to the elbow. If left unchecked it can become increasingly debilitating due to continual microscopic tearing in this area that can lead to a runaway reaction of cell death in which the muscle integrity of the arm is compromised. Since the fingers, wrist and many of their flexors connect to this part of the elbow it can lead to serious problems further down the road. If ignored, your grip can be affected and trying to do something as simple as ball up your fist can become an excruciatingly painful task.
GE is still a relatively misunderstood condition, and in fact, you don’t even need to be a golfer to get it. Any physical activity that puts pressure on the tendons attached to the elbow can cause inflammation if due care is not taken prior to strenuous activity. GE occurs not only in golf but is also fairly common in activities such as baseball and rock climbing. Even small things like the type of grip you use when holding a club can be a large factor to the development GE, as people who use a non-overlapping grip are at higher risk due to the unbalanced distribution of force being driven up the arm when striking the ball.
The most common reason for developing GE is simply overdoing it. There is a reason that even the professionals don’t push themselves past 18 holes a day. Everything in moderation, even golf! The jarring of the arms, the twist of the torso and the constant rotation of the wrists all cause microscopic muscle tearing which although completely normal during exercise, can be detrimental if not given the proper amount of time to rest and rebuild.
GE is not something that should be “pushed through” as people often try to do with common muscle soreness. In fact, people often mistake the initial soreness of GE for muscle pain, when in actual fact it is the tendon connecting the muscle that has been damaged. If you feel any discomfort or soreness at your elbow, or are experiencing shooting pains when you try to make a fist, or if you feel any “twinges” after a round of golf, then it’s definitely time to take an extended break.
Fortunately there are a few very important (and very simple) things to keep in mind in order to prevent GE and in fact any sort of sporting injury. Warming up your muscles and performing the correct stretches prior to strenuous activity is essential. Although it may look like a leisurely stroll-and-putt to some, as far as your tendons are concerned, golf is a high-impact sport. The repetitive and striking nature of the game puts large amounts of stress on your tendons and if you don’t warm up properly then the chances of damaging these areas are greatly increased. You can an excellent video of some quick and easy exercises here. As with all health problems, prevention is always better than treatment.
However if you feel that you may already be suffering from GE then the first and best thing to do is rest. Icing the affected area can also be highly beneficial as this helps to reduce the inflammation of the tendons and surrounding muscle tissue and will help to alleviate some of the symptoms. Over the counter medicines such as ibuprofen and aspirin are also valuable as they have the double effect of being an analgesic (painkiller) as well as possessing anti-inflammatory properties. If the pain is persists for longer than a week using these methods then a trip to your general practitioner is most definitely the next step.
Depending on the severity of your condition and the way in which you decide to go about treating it, GE can take anything from 1 month to 2 years to fully heal. So with this in mind, always do your warm ups, pay attention to what your body is telling you and most importantly don’t overdo it!