Although they’re often treated synonymously, tennis elbow and golfer’s elbow are similar but distinct conditions that can both cause significant pain in the arms and hands. These conditions involve inflammation in the elbow area—tennis elbow manifests as inflammation in the outer side of the arm (located in the lateral epicondyle tendon), whereas golfer’s elbow affects the inner side, affecting the medial epicondyle tendon. Anyone who repeatedly strains these tendons is at risk of developing either of these conditions, even if they never touch a tennis racquet or a golf club!
In both cases, the tendons are attached to muscles that extend all the way down the arm to the wrist, which work whenever you flex your fingers or turn your hand over. This is why the condition can start out as a growing sense of discomfort in the elbow but can eventually cause aching all the way along the lower arm and in the hands, making normal movement difficult and painful.
Diagnosing the condition
Both tennis elbow and golfer’s elbow are generally diagnosed with reference to a patient’s medical history and the results of a physical examination done by a trained chiropractor. This can involve the application of a mild pressure to the affected area to check on pain levels and to feel for stiffness in the tendons, as well as asking the patient to move the elbow, wrist and fingers to pinpoint the precise internal structures affected. Simple active and passive diagnostic testing techniques—such as having a patient fully extend the arm under controlled conditions or otherwise attempt to flex the elbow against a resisting pressure applied by the doctor—are often used to make the distinction. In many cases, an X-ray (or possibly an MRI scan) can help distinguish between tendon inflammation and other potential causes of the pain, such as arthritis or a bone fracture.
People who suffer from either condition may experience difficulties performing simple tasks, such as typing, brushing their teeth or opening a door. The symptoms can worsen over time, so it’s very important to seek treatment as early as possible to relieve the condition before it becomes too serious.
Dealing with Tennis/Golfer’s Elbow
Often dealing with golfer’s elbow or tennis elbow seems like an impossible situation. This is because the condition isn’t typically caused by a major injury, making it seem strange that such sharp pains result from doing normal activities.
The best way to treat this issue is to not get it in the first place. This means lots of stretching and taking care of your joints when doing activities such as playing sports. Before performing their daily activities, athletes should perform some basic exercises and stretches. Wrist stretches for tennis elbow include gently pulling your outstretched, downturned hand back towards your chest with your other hand, while for golfer’s elbow the hand should be facing upwards. The stretching exercise is held for around thirty seconds each and performed three times.
Of course, while those suffering from tennis/golfer’s elbow undergo flexing techniques to restore muscle strength and flexibility of movement, it’s also important to modify the behaviour that gave rise to the condition in the first place—for example, improving one’s sports technique to avoid placing too much impact on the elbow, or reducing the duration of activities that involve repetitive strain injuries to occur.
If you’re seeing this article too late and already have a moderate to severe case of tendonitis, then you may need to move on to stronger therapies such as chiropractic care, physiotherapy and acupuncture. These are the best treatments to help the body deal with the pain and symptoms associated with golfers and tennis elbow.
In all tendinous or sports-based injuries such as these, the trouble is often caused by continuously stressing the joints and soft tissues of the body. This leads to a stiffening of the joint and tendons, which then allows microtears to occur in the tissue. Chiropractic extremity adjustments are often the first recommended treatment for this, as it is a movement-based therapy. Restoring flexibility to the joint will allow the breakdown of the inflamed tendinous tissues and any scar tissue that has formed around the joint. At our office, this is often accompanied by ultrasound or acupuncture to help restore blood flow to the tendons for more rapid healing. Tendons have a notoriously low blood supply, which is what allows them to develop these problems in the first place. In any part of the body, the less blood flow to an area, the slower it heals. The main focus of chiropractic care and acupuncture is to increase the flow of nutrition and movement to the affected area.
There’s also a broad range of muscular treatments at Maple healthcare designed to treat tennis and golfer’s elbow. Among these, massage and physical therapies can help improve the condition without resorting to drugs or other medical interventions. These techniques serve to build up the strength and flexibility of the forearm, and improve blood flow to the tendons, which also promotes healing.
One standard massage technique known as “transverse friction massage” is regularly used to treat these injuries, applied to the tendons and the muscles via the fingertips. This is a deep-tissue technique performed at the injury site to help break down scarring and soften it so that it can function as regular healthy tissue. Another good protocol for manual therapy involves massage by spreading strokes across the whole forearm with concentration on the affected part, crossing muscle fibres over the flexor tendon near the inflamed area. Applying deep pressure during this massage can draw fibroblasts to the site, contributing to the healing of the degenerated tissue.
There are a number of specific muscle and tendon breakdown therapies designed to relieve pain in the elbow brought on by these conditions, including Maple Healthcare Chiropractic Clinic Vietnam’s proprietary Muscle Therapy Technique (MTT) developed to bring about rapid healing even while remaining active—and there’s no need to give up sports during the therapy period. Chiropractic adjustments help to free up movement within the elbow joint and relieve some of the pressure from the surrounding muscles.
Advice on taking care of your body during sports
The most important consideration in preventing injury is proper form. Many people let competition or fatigue get to them, losing their form or never really making it a priority in the first place. Proper form in your swing, however, is not only about getting the best shot—it’s also to allow your body to move fluidly and easily without resistance.
Anyone who plays these sports should also be active in other types of exercise, because even though these sports can be considered exercise in themselves, they still cause stress to the body. To protect the joints and muscles, they should be well conditioned with weighted exercise and cardio.
Golfers should not carry their bags if possible due to the heavy weight being put on one side of the body. This will cause muscle stress and imbalance, which can then lead to back pain and other issues.
Lastly and again, always warm up the muscles and joints. You should stretch and warm up for 5–10 minutes before a game, and then afterwards stretch again for 10–15 minutes. This will prevent muscle tightening and stress to the tendons.
I hope this gives you some good information about how to work with these injuries and keep yourself playing with a healthy body!