Why Is Tennis Elbow a Common Golf Injury?

By John Lindell
The elbow bend in the golf swing is similar to that of tennis.
The elbow bend in the golf swing is similar to that of tennis.

The term tennis elbow is used to describe the pain that can develop on the outside portion of a person's upper arm. While tennis elbow occurs among many tennis players due to the repetitive motion of using a tennis racket, it is also a common golfing injury. Tennis elbow brings with it soreness and inflammation and can make swinging a golf club a very uncomfortable experience.

The cause

Tennis elbow in a golfer’s arm is the result of repeatedly causing stress to the tendons in the elbow. Eventually, the action of swinging a golf club will precipitate minute tears in the tendons and the muscles of the elbow, especially where these tendons are attached on the outer elbow. A similar injury occurs when tendons and muscles are affected in the inner part of the elbow; this is called “golfer’s elbow," but is actually less frequently seen in the golfer than tennis elbow. The medical term for this condition is epicondylitis, and a doctor will diagnose this problem based on the symptoms, as X-rays and other tests will fail to reveal any structural damage in the joint.

The symptoms

The symptoms of tennis elbow for a golfer are the same as they are for anyone else who suffers from this aliment. The soreness on the outside part of the elbow is a classic sign. Someone with tennis elbow will feel pain when he attempts to lift objects as light as a dinner plate or a drinking glass. There will be noticeable tenderness when he touches his outer elbow, and making a fist will be quite uncomfortable. If the individual with tennis elbow were to try to open his hand while someone attempts to hold his fist shut, the pain level will increase in the elbow area. The pain associated with tennis elbow can be constant or come and go, and may be accompanied by stiffness in the joint as well as weakness in the entire lower arm.

Prevention

Someone who is subject to developing tennis elbow while golfing does have some options available to decrease the chances of feeling this pain. While practicing, she should avoid rubber mats and hit off grass instead. By easing her grip on the club a little, she may be able to reduce the strain on the elbow tendons. The club should be brought back in a slow and relaxed manner during the backswing, and no shot should ever be attempted where the risk exists to hit a rock, a tree root or a similar hard object such as a sprinkler head. The shots that can cause the most damage are long irons or woods from the fairway; using a tee for these shots may not be legal under the game’s rules but can keep tennis elbow at bay.

Treatment

To deal with the pain and inflammation that goes with tennis elbow, the golfer needs to be aware that it is not prudent to play when a good amount of pain is present in the elbow. According to the Mayo Clinic, it is quite possible to make this pain even worse by continuing to play through it, which can lead to it becoming chronic in nature. Resting between golf outings is wise, and keeping the elbow iced using an ice pack can keep down the swelling in a mild case of the problem. Arm braces can immobilize the elbow while it heals, and anti-inflammatory medications often are enough to stop the aching. In more severe instances of tennis elbow, the golfer may have to opt for a trip to the doctor. A physician may recommend injections of steroids, stronger prescription painkillers, ultrasound and heat treatments and, in the worst-case scenario, surgery to combat an acute or chronic case.

About the Author

John Lindell has written articles for "The Greyhound Review" and various other online publications. A Connecticut native, his work specializes in sports, fishing and nature. Lindell worked in greyhound racing for 25 years.

Photo Credits

  • Neilson Barnard/Getty Images Entertainment/Getty Images
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