Pain in your elbow during golf could be caused by poor swing mechanics, golf clubs not suitable for your physical condition or injury. Pro golfer Mike Weir, the 2003 Masters champion, tried playing with a partially torn tendon in his right elbow in 2010, but the discomfort was so severe that he eventually stopped playing for three months. He said once he resumed practicing, he hit short shots with plastic balls for a month to lessen the impact on his elbow. Your elbow pain may not be as serious as Weir's injury, but you should see a doctor if the pain persists.
Pain in the elbow is so common in golf that doctors have a name for it: Golfer's elbow. Also known as medial epicondylitis, the condition causes pain and inflammation in the elbow, according to the Mayo Clinic. Pain can spread from the inner side of your elbow to your wrist and forearm. The condition is caused by damage to tendons and muscles controlling your wrist and fingers.
Golfer's elbow is usually related to excessive or repetitive stress on the wrist and fingers. The Mayo Clinic reports that golfer's elbow sometimes begins after sudden force to the elbow or wrist. This can happen when you strike a tree root during a swing, or hit too far behind the ball, causing the clubface to dig into the ground. Repetitive use of muscles in your forearm can also cause pain in the elbow, according to WebMD. Certain muscles in your forearm allow you to rotate your arms and flex your wrists. Overuse of those muscles can cause tears in tendons around your elbow.
Pain in the elbow can start as numbness or tingling, according to the Mayo Clinic. Your elbow may also feel stiff, and simply making a fist may cause discomfort. You should see a doctor if the pain is persistent or your elbow feels warm to the touch and you suspect inflammation. Other warning signs include pain when you pick something up with your palm down or discomfort when you shake hands or turn a doorknob. Some golfers find that they cannot bend their elbow without discomfort or their elbow appears deformed.
Doctors usually recommend surgery as a last resort for treating elbow pain. Surgery may be necessary if you have torn tendons. Before suggesting surgery your doctor may advise taking a break from the game to allow the tendons time to heal. Over-the-counter drugs such as ibuprofen can help manage the pain. Applying ice to your elbow can also help. Patience is important when recovering from severe instances of elbow pain. Steve Jones, a competitor on the PGA Champions Tour, said in 2011 that it took a year or two for his golf game to fully rebound from a slew of injuries, including surgery on his right elbow.
The PGA of America suggests that golfers experiencing chronic elbow pain consider playing with clubs that transmit as little shock to the hands and arms as possible. Clubs with graphite shafts usually absorb more shock than clubs with steel shafts. A PGA professional can examine your clubs and recommend the best shafts for your physical condition and golfing ability, and may also suggest changes to your stance, posture and swing mechanics. The changes could improve your swing and relieve stress on certain joints, including your elbow.