Tennis elbow and golfer’s elbow are similar conditions that are both classed as overuse injuries. That’s a fancy phrase that means both tennis elbow and golfer’s elbow are caused by repetitive motions of the arm and wrist.
With either condition, these repetitive motions trigger inflammation within the elbow.
Given that they are both forms of epicondylitis and have similar symptoms, it is not surprising that there is plenty of confusion regarding the differences.
To help you understand these two painful and irritating conditions, we will explain both tennis elbow and golfer’s elbow separately. From there, we will compare the two conditions and explain how they are treated.
What is Tennis Elbow?
Tennis elbow, also known as lateral epicondylitis, is a common condition that results from overusing the muscles and tendons in the wrist, forearm, and elbow. In most cases, tennis elbow results from repetitive movements.
While tennis players are not the only group who are susceptible to tennis elbow, the repetitive motion of swinging a racket puts those who play the sport in a higher risk category for developing the condition.
The tendons in the elbow stabilize and extend the wrist and anchor several muscles to the bones in your arm.
When their attachment point within the elbow is under excessive and repeated strain, you can experience pain and tenderness.
This pain flares up during any activities involving forming a strong grip. People suffering from tennis elbow experience heightened pain when they grip and swing their tennis rackets.
Reducing the Risk of Developing Tennis Elbow
Any repetitive wrist and arm motion can increase your risk for developing tennis elbow. Studies have shown that the use of improperly sized equipment and repeatedly practicing improper form during swings increases a player’s risk of developing the condition quite substantially.
As you may suspect, you can reduce your risk of developing tennis elbow by choosing a tennis racket that has the correct grip size for your hands.
Proper form will also reduce your risk of developing tennis elbow and other injuries.
Get into the habit of properly warming up and stretching before you play tennis. This helps prevent tennis elbow and a variety of painful muscle injuries and strains.
Taking breaks between matches is also very important, especially if you play tennis multiple times per week.
While they may seem similar at first glance, golfer’s elbow is an entirely different condition to tennis elbow.
Golfer’s elbow, or medial epicondylitis, occurs on the inner side of the arm and elbow and is caused by repetitive activities that involve flexing and twisting the wrist. Activities that require you to bend your wrist forward and repeatedly flex the forearm muscles can lead to golfer’s elbow.
Just as tennis elbow is not limited to tennis players, golfer’s elbow can occur in those that do not play golf.
It just happens to be that the game of golf involves repeatedly performing the motions that lead to the condition.
Those suffering from golfer’s elbow usually experience sharp pain in their elbow when they make a fist, twist their forearm, or bend their wrist forward.
Not only does golfer’s elbow trigger pain and tenderness in the elbow, but swelling usually occurs as well.
Reducing the Risk of Developing Golfer’s Elbow
As with tennis elbow, you can reduce the risk of developing a painful case of golfer’s elbow by playing golf with appropriately sized equipment and practicing proper form.
The condition is also caused by other activities. The most important thing you can do is manage the strain you put on your wrist, forearm, and elbow.
Take days off and know when to call it quits for the day.
If you are participating in multiple activities that put strain on your wrist know when to take breaks. These activities range from painting, golfing, weight lifting to other forms of manual labor.
It’s important that you properly stretch and warm-up.
Since both conditions are considered overuse injuries, the main thing you can do to reduce your chances of developing either condition is to manage your workload.
If you know you will be putting a lot of strain on the tendons, plan to take a few days off afterward.
Tennis Elbow vs Golfer’s Elbow: The Differences
Some of the more distinct differences between the two conditions are as follows:
The Affected Tendon – Tennis elbow impacts the lateral (outside) epicondyle tendon. This tendon is connected to the arm muscles that stretch your wrist backward and allow you to spread your fingers apart. Golfer’s elbow impacts the medial epicondyle tendon, the tendon on the inner side of the arm and elbow. This tendon is connected to the muscles that bend your wrist forward and contract your fingers when you make a fist.
Symptoms – The two conditions cause similar, yet different symptoms. Both conditions often result in elbow pain and tenderness. With tennis elbow, these sensations are localized to the outside of the elbow. Pain associated with golfer’s elbow is usually experiences on the inside of the elbow and along the inner side of the forearm. Tennis elbow usually just results in pain and tenderness. Golfer’s elbow can also lead to a sensation of numbness and even tingling in the fingertips.
Inflammation – Inflammation tends to be more common with golfer’s elbow, but both conditions can cause swelling. A person suffering from tennis elbow may notice swelling on the outside of the elbow and forearm. Someone who has golfer’s elbow will notice any inflammation on the inner side of the elbow and forearm.
What Can You Do If You Suspect You Have Either Condition?
There are a variety of tests you can perform to determine if you are suffering from either condition. The most effective way to know if you have tennis elbow or golfer’s elbow is to visit a doctor.
It is also worth noting that your risk for developing either condition increases as you age. Smokers and those with poor physical health also have an increased risk of developing both conditions. Those in these categories should take extra precautions to manage the amount of strain they put on their tendons.
Nobody playing golf or tennis wants to sustain an elbow injury or end up requiring surgery. Play it safe. Take sufficient rest time. Keep swinging away at your ball of choice!
If you’re looking for an elbow brace, check out our post where we review a number of options on the market.