An injury can do more than just balloon your golf handicap. It can permanently derail your game. Golfers elbow (medial epicondylitis) is among the most common-and annoying-injuries in the game. It not only causes pain in your elbow, but also produces a shooting sensation down your forearm when gripping objects. Rest and ice is usually the initial treatment. Changing your mechanics by either taking a golf lesson or using new golf tip also helps. But sometimes surgery is the only solution.
Golfer's elbow is a form of tendonitis. Its cause is overuse. Tendons at the end of your muscles attach to bone. The insertions points of the tendon on the bone are often pointed prominences. Inflammation at these points, caused by overusing the elbow, produces the pain you feel with this injury. The main difference between golfer's elbow and tennis elbow (lateral epicondylitis) is the pain's location. The pain from tennis elbow's pain is more on the outside of the elbow than the inside.
The Mechanism Varies
What triggers golfer's elbow varies. It ranges from a single violent action to repetitive injuries where an action is performed repeatedly, like swinging a golf club or a tennis racquet. Often, golfer's elbow appears at the start of the season. But it also occurs during the season when the repeated action increases in duration or intensity. In addition, golfer's elbow comes from work-related injuries, like hammering nails. In that case, swinging a golf club only makes the injury worse or prevents it from healing.
The initial treatment for golfer's elbow is rest, ice applications after using the elbow, and anti-inflammatory medicines, like Advil or Motrin. Ibuprofen also helps. These medications control the pain and reduce swelling. But use them carefully if you have stomach or kidney problems. If these measures fail, a cortisone injection is an option. If you get two cortisone injections with no relief, a third probably won't help. In extreme cases surgery is an option to remove the inflamed tissue. But this is rare.
Build Up Your Muscles
Once you're pain free, build up the muscles around the inside of your elbow. Use wrist and forearm exercises and stretching. Avoid exercise and stretching if you still have pain, though. They just inflame the tendons more, causing more pain. Also, try wearing a forearm brace like that used by tennis players and baseball players. It redistributes the jarring force from impact to different area away from the inflamed tissue.
Another option that keeps you playing is teeing the ball up on every shot-even from the fairway. You might have to adjust your golf handicap to make this option acceptable to your playing partners. But it decreases the force of impact, minimizes pain in the elbow, and lets you enjoy the game.
Change Your Swing Mechanics
You may also want to change your swing mechanics. See a local pro who uses a video cam. Have him check your mechanics. Or, have a friend whose judgment you trust watch you swing. If your mechanics are off, take some golf lessons or read some golf tips and correcting them. Also check your clubs and grips. Both must be right for you. Otherwise, you'll still have problems.
Golfers elbow is serious business. It not only creates bad shots that increase your golf handicap, but also produces intense pain. Rest, ice, and medication usually help. When the pain subsides, exercises and stretching can prevent a recurrence. Also check your mechanics. If they're off, attend golf instruction sessions or read golf tips to correct them. If the pain persists, see your doctor. It's better to stop playing for a season, than injure yourself permanently and never play again.