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How to Tell the Difference Between Golfer's and Tennis Elbow

How to Tell the Difference Between Golfer's and Tennis Elbow

Elbow pain is a relatively common complaint, especially among people who use their forearms for jobs or recreation. While tennis and golf both strain the elbow joint, other activities, like lifting, painting, or using certain tools, can also strain the muscles and tendons that support the elbow joints.

While both overuse injuries respond well to treatment, opting to ignore your symptoms can result in significantly worse and worse elbow function. An orthopedic specialist, J. Michael Bennett, MD, PA, has significant experience treating elbow injuries, including golfer’s elbow and tennis elbow. Here’s how to tell the difference between these conditions and how Dr. Bennett can help you feel better.

Brief anatomy of the elbow

To understand how elbow overuse injuries happen, it helps to start with a little understanding of the joint’s anatomy. The elbow joint forms where the upper arm bone (the humerus) meets the two lower arm bones (the ulna and the radius). 

The end of the humerus features two lumps or bony protuberances called epicondyles. The lump or bump on the outside of the elbow is called the lateral epicondyle, while the bump on the inside of your elbow is called the medial epicondyle. The muscles and tendons that help your elbow bend and straighten attach to the arm bones at these bumps. 

When you overuse your forearm muscles, the tendons can become irritated and inflamed. Elbow pain, stiffness, tenderness, and warmth often follow, often limiting the range of motion or making lifting, grasping, and other movements very painful.

Golfer’s elbow vs. tennis elbow

Golfer’s elbow (medial epicondylitis) happens when that irritation and inflammation happen around the medial epicondyle — the inner elbow area. Tennis elbow (lateral epicondylitis) involves inflammation around the lateral epicondyle or the outer part of your elbow. 

The reason for the nicknames is simple: Golfing movements are more likely to cause pain in the medial epicondyle (the inner elbow), while tennis motions are more likely to cause symptoms in the lateral epicondyle (the outer elbow). In addition to elbow pain, you may have symptoms like:

Without proper medical care, you can develop permanent muscle weakness or nerve damage over time.

Treating tennis elbow and golfer’s elbow

A comprehensive exam of your elbow and forearm combined with diagnostic imaging helps Dr. Bennett diagnose these elbow conditions. Once the diagnosis is made, Dr. Bennett typically begins treatment with conservative options, like:

Depending on your injury, he may also recommend Tenex Health TX™, an innovative treatment that uses ultrasound waves to target the injury and promote tissue repair and healing.

Most epicondylitis overuse injuries respond well to these conservative treatment options, but surgery might be a good solution if your pain persists. Dr. Bennett performs traditional open elbow surgery and elbow arthroscopy, a minimally invasive surgery using tiny incisions and special instruments. He’ll recommend the better option based on your specific needs.

Elbow pain can worsen without prompt and appropriate medical treatment, sometimes causing permanent disability in your entire arm. If you have elbow symptoms, don’t ignore them. To learn how we can help, book an appointment online or over the phone with Dr. Bennett today.

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