How Physical Therapy Can Help: Epicondylitis (Golfer’s Elbow or Tennis Elbow)

Ryan LaCorte Publications

The Facts:

  • Affects 1-3% of the United States’ population
  • Affects both men and women equally
  • Affects people of all ages

What could my symptoms be?

  • Pain in your elbow (see figure 1)
  • Pain with wrist motions
  • Pain with gripping or twisting motions
  • Pain that gets worse with activity and better with rest

What is epicondylitis?

Epicondylitis refers to inflammation and irritation of the muscles and tendons that attach to the epicondyles in the elbow. The epicondyles are the bony projections you can feel on the inside and outside of the elbow (see figure 2). Large groups of muscles attach to each of these bony projections. These muscles are responsible for motions of the elbow, wrist and hand. When these muscles continuously pull on the bone, they can irritate the bone and initiate an inflammatory response. This can result in the tenderness and pain that is felt in the elbow.

Types of epicondylitis:

Specifically, there are two types of epicondylitis which you may have heard of: Golfer’s elbow and Tennis elbow. Golfer’s elbow refers to irritation and pain along the inside of the elbow; while Tennis elbow refers to pain along the outside of the elbow (see figure 3). Each is named according to the specific sport and body mechanics that can lead to epicondylitis.

How can I get epicondylitis?

Activities like golf and tennis are some of the examples of sports that can lead to the overuse of these muscles. If one is utilizing an improper form, hitting technique or grip mechanic during these sports it can lead to epicondylitis. However, it is important to recognize that epicondylitis is not limited to athletes; it also commonly affects carpenters, musicians, seamstresses or tailors and those who perform a lot of work on computers.

Why does it hurt?

The tenderness felt can be due to a wide variety of causes including overuse of the muscles in the forearm, repetitive gripping activities, imbalances of the musculature in the shoulder, and/or repetitive turning and twisting of the wrist. Additional common causes can include weak core muscles and weak rotator cuff muscles. Repetition of the same strenuous motion can lead to the overuse of these muscles which can lead to microscopic tears in the tendons. These tears along with the irritation of the musculature and tendons can lead to inflammation and degeneration of the muscle attachment sites onto the bone which can cause the pain that is felt.

I think I may have epicondylitis, what should I do?

Diagnosis of this disorder can be made by special tests that can be performed by your doctor or physical therapist during your initial examination. X-rays or additional imaging may be requested in order to rule out other disorders of the elbow.

How can physical therapy help?

An exercise program can be designed specifically for you! The program will involve specific exercises in order to stretch and strengthen the muscles in your forearms, shoulders, or core depending where the deficits may be. Education may be required in specific form and technique during tasks in order to try to prevent reoccurrence of this disorder. Your physical therapist may use additional modalities in order to decrease the pain and inflammation including: ultrasound, electrical stimulation, ice, massage and other muscle stimulating techniques.

At All-Care Physical Therapy we specialize in innovative techniques in order to address your elbow pain. A customized program will be developed by our skilled physical therapists in order to make your road to recovery as simple and painless as possible. To schedule an appointment at our Jackson location please call: 732- 833-1133.

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