All elbow pain is not the same! Are you trying to trace the origins of pain or loss of motion affecting your elbow? The two common causes of elbow pain are “tennis” elbow and “golfer’s” elbow. However, you may find that these two terms are incorrectly used interchangeably by people when elbow pain is discussed. Knowing the difference between these two conditions is important because they require different treatment approaches. Let’s break down how to tell the difference, what treatment might look like and why you should never ignore elbow pain!
Tennis Elbow and Golfer’s Elbow: What You Need to Know
First, you don’t have to be an avid tennis player or golf fanatic to actually suffer from tennis elbow or golfer’s elbow. Both are “overuse” injuries that stem from repetitive motions. It’s also possible to experience chronic elbow pain or reduced range of motion due to elbow trauma. Research points to the idea that post-traumatic osteoarthritis with elbow instability or subluxation could be behind some elbow pain.
What makes tennis elbow and golfer’s elbow different? The two are commonly lumped together because they both involve pain that travels along the forearm and elbow. However, the big difference comes down to the exact location of the pain. With tennis elbow, the pain is being experienced on the outside of the elbow. Golf elbow manifests on the inside portion of the elbow. That means that these conditions can be looked at as mirror “opposites.” Next, we’ll put the magnifying glass on both tennis elbow and golfer’s elbow to see what sufferers are really dealing with on a daily basis.
A Closer Look at Tennis Elbow
We know that tennis elbow is typically caused by the overuse of a muscle group called wrist extensors. You can find these muscles located on the back of your forearm. The repetitive motion of coordinating the wrist with the rest of the arm to control a tennis racket is the most common cause for tennis elbow. However, many people suffer from this condition without ever picking up a tennis racket! Any activity that requires you to grip objects or handle tools can cause tennis elbow. Even “passive” hobbies like gardening, knitting, and scrapbooking can be to blame! What’s more, tennis is far from the only sport that can trigger tennis elbow. We see a lot of athletes in the worlds of baseball, squash, badminton, and discus with the telltale symptoms of tennis elbow. Here’s a look at common symptoms of tennis elbow:
- General tenderness radiating on the outside of your elbow.
- Pain radiating from outside your elbow to extend down your forearm.
- Weak grip.
- Forearm weakness.
- Pain when gripping or twisting.
- Pain when playing tennis.
Unfortunately, tennis elbow is something that rarely “resolves” on its own. Even stopping the repetitive motion that is linked with the pain won’t necessarily take care of the underlying problem. The inflammation in the tendons associated with tennis elbow can actually turn into full or partial tendon tears. The first line of treatment is often to simply give your elbow rest. However, it’s also important to treat the issue at the site while strengthening the surrounding tissue and muscles in the arm to create support.
A Closer Look at Golfer’s Elbow
With golfer’s elbow, pain is triggered by overuse of a muscle group called wrist flexors instead of the wrist extensors. Many of the symptoms of golfer’s elbow manifest as “mirror images” of the symptoms felt with tennis elbow. Here’s a rundown of common golfer’s elbow symptoms:
- Pain radiating from inside your elbow to your arm.
- Tenderness on the inside of the elbow.
- Hand weakness.
- Wrist weakness.
- Tingling in your fingers.
- Numbness in your fingers.
- Pain when gripping.
- Pain when flexing your wrist.
People often experience golfer’s elbow after doing repetitive motions that require them to flex the wrist over and over again for long durations. This can include “gripping” activities like painting and shoveling. This is often a common ailment among people who work on assembly lines.
Diagnosing Elbow Pain
Looking at the symptoms for tennis elbow and golfer’s elbow, you may feel like you have a good idea regarding which ailment is behind your elbow pain. However, it will still be necessary to get a full diagnosis to determine the root of your pain, discomfort, or loss of mobility. When making a diagnosis, we’re primarily focusing on three main factors. These factors are the area of the inflammation, the tendons that are impacted, and the overall symptoms.
Treatment Options for Tennis Elbow and Golfer’s Elbow
Both tennis elbow and golfer’s elbow are typically receptive to the same types of treatments. However, actual treatment approaches will vary to address the specific pain points and affected tendons associated with these conditions. If you’re looking for a non-invasive treatment for elbow pain, the goal is to help the affected area heal without the need for surgery. You have a number of options to look at when pursuing natural, non-invasive treatment options for elbow pain.
Rest is often the first line of defense when treating elbow pain. Giving your arm a break from a repetitive motion can be important for beginning the healing process. If you intend to return to the activity that is responsible for your elbow pain, it will be important to learn new techniques for avoiding strain going forward. This is true for both athletes and people who work in industries that require repetitive motion. Many elbow injuries are actually caused by the incorrect form. That means that the right therapeutic approach combined with relearning how to do certain motions can actually allow you to enjoy a pain-free life. However, simply “switching techniques” without addressing the underlying inflammation and tendon damage that has already been done can cause your injury to get progressively worse.
What Are Some Common Treatments for Tennis Elbow and Golfer’s Elbow?
Many people find relief from elbow pain with a mix of physical and chiropractic therapies. Any exercises that allow you to gently stretch the forearm muscles to relieve strain and tension can be beneficial for relieving pain and restoring range of motion. If an injury has progressed, a treatment like platelet-rich plasma (PRP) for tennis elbow can be a good option for helping tissue to activate its own long-term healing abilities. PRP therapy injects plasma from your own blood at the site of the injury to promote tissue regeneration.
Tennis Elbow and Golfer’s Elbow: The Big Takeaways
You don’t have to be a tennis player or golfer to experience a serious elbow injury. While both conditions affect the same general area, they are actually two separate issues affecting different tendons. The one thing they do have in common is that they both get progressively worse if left untreated. Even a case of elbow pain that will eventually resolve on its own can often heal much faster with gentle, minor chiropractic or therapeutic interventions. For athletes or people who do repetitive movements involving the elbows, prevention can be important. Learning techniques for strengthening the arm, shoulder, and muscles in the upper-back region can take the stress off the elbows to prevent injury. The bottom line is that elbow pain isn’t something to simply live with or ignore. This is a condition that can be resolved relatively easy for most people with some gentle interventions!