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Golfer's Elbow (Medial Epicondylitis)

  • What is golfer's elbow?

    Golfer's elbow

    Golfer’s elbow refers to pain on the inside of the elbow caused by swelling of one of the tendons that join the forearm muscles to the elbow. The pain is found at the bony bump on the inner part of the elbow where the flexor tendons of the forearm attach to the part of the elbow called the medial epicondyle. For this reason, golfer’s elbow is also known as ‘medial epicondylitis’.

  • Golfer's elbow is typically caused by repetitive overuse of the common flexor muscles of the forearm. This is usually the result of upper limb sports like upper limb gym workouts and golfing, or long hours of work involving the use of the upper limb. Less commonly, golfer's elbow can start after a traumatic injury to the common flexor injury such as a sports injury or a fall.

  • The main symptom of golfer’s elbow is tenderness and pain in the inside of the elbow. You may have other symptoms including:

    • Less strength than usual when holding something or squeezing your hand into a fist
    • Pain spreading down your arm – bending your wrist, twisting your forearm down or holding onto objects can worsen the pain
    • Worsening pain when lifting a heavy object with your palm facing up
  • Your doctor will need to conduct a physical examination and ask about your daily activities. An X-ray may also be done to confirm the diagnosis, and to exclude other associated injuries that can occur with a golfer's elbow.

    Treatment may begin with home-based therapy and medication to relieve the symptoms. This includes:

    • Rest
    • Applying ice or a cold compress to the elbow and inner part of the forearm
    • Stretching out the forearm
    • Using a brace for support
    • Taking medication to relieve pain and inflammation

    As the pain subsides, you may gradually resume normal activity and perform simple exercises to help strengthen the arm.

    For persistent pain that does not respond well to home-based therapy, your doctor may recommend corticosteroid injections to reduce inflammation or plasma-rich protein injections to boost the healing process. Most people recover without the need for surgery, but in rare circumstances this may be advised. The procedure may involve the removal of damaged tissue, build-up of scar tissue, or extra bone which may be pressing on the tendon.

    Depending on the type of treatment and need for surgery, recovery time ranges from 4 weeks to 6 months or more for severe cases.

    Consult an orthopaedic specialist to find the treatment option best suited for your condition.

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  • If left untreated, complications from golfer’s elbow or medial epicondylitis could develop. This includes chronic pain, loss of range and function and stiffness known as elbow contracture.

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    • Alan Cheung

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      Mount Elizabeth Medical Centre
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