by Jamie Swale, DPT
Golf is a very popular sport in the United States and Hampton Roads is no exception. While golf is a wonderful, low-impact exercise, there are some injuries that can occur from playing. One of the most common is Medial Epicondylitis – more commonly known as Golfer’s Elbow.
Golfer’s Elbow usually occurs when golfers play regularly and/or have an imperfection in their swing. The condition is not isolated to golfers, however, and is classified as an overuse injury that can occur with any repetitive wrist flexion activities, such as gardening or hammering. Over time and with continued use, these repeated stresses to the collagen tissue in tendons can cause degeneration and form scar tissue, resulting in weakness and pain. The “sister” condition of Golfer’s Elbow is the inflammation of the Lateral Epicondylitis, the tendon on the outside of the elbow, which is also known as Tennis Elbow. This is related to repetitive wrist extension activities.
Treatment for Golfer’s Elbow starts with rest (to remove the action causing inflammation), taking over the counter anti-inflammatory medications, and modalities such as ice and heat. If these conservative treatments do not provide relief, the physician may inject the affected tendon with a steroid to reduce the inflammation, or prescribe a medication.
Physical Therapy is often recommended to assist healing in patients who have Golfer’s or Tennis Elbow. After a thorough evaluation of the patient, the therapist will provide a specific regimen of stretching and strengthening throughout the arm, in order to reduce pain and inflammation at the elbow and improve mechanics of functional activities.
In addition, there are several modalities which may be used in order to speed healing of the injured tendon and further reduce pain. Electric stimulation may be of benefit for pain management, as well as use of the infrared laser for inflammation and pain. Both of these treatments stimulate blood flow and cellular activity to facilitate the body’s natural healing process. Increased blood flow also takes away toxins and other waste products from the injury, which aids in healing. Various taping techniques or an elbow splint may also provide support and pain relief throughout the recovery process.
Occasionally, Golfer’s Elbow requires surgical intervention to fully improve. Physical Therapy will also play a role in post-surgical recovery, once the OSC physician clears the patient to begin. We will assist the patient with swelling and pain management, range of motion and strengthening in order to resume all of their normal activities and functions. Working in coordination with the physician, we will see the patient for several weeks and make adjustments to their plan of care, based on their progress.
Recovery from Golfer’s Elbow may take time, but the effort will be worth it when you are back to work or playing golf without pain.