If you have pain in your elbow, you may be suffering from a condition known as golfer's elbow, and  few sessions with your physical therapist may be in order to help you gain control of your condition and get back to normal activity.  Golfer's elbow, or medial epicondylitis, should not be confused with tennis elbow, or lateral epicondylitis.

You don't have to play golf to get golfer's elbow.  In fact, many people who suffer from the condition have never played golf - they have simply irritated the common wrist flexor tendons near their elbow.

 The irritation causes pain and decreased functional use of your elbow and upper extremity.

Where is Golfer's Elbow Felt?

Golfer's elbow is typically felt as pain in the medial, or inside, aspect of your elbow.  The muscles that help to bend your wrist attach to the medial epicondyle of your humerus there.  The pain is usually made worse with gripping and lifting activities.  You may also feel increased elbow pain with any forceful motions with your arms, such as those that occur during a golf swing.

To find the spot where medial epicondylitis typically strikes, hold your arm by your side with your elbow out straight and your palm facing forward.  Now, slide your other hand down the inner part of your upper arm to your elbow.  A small bony prominence, called the medial epicondyle, can be felt near your elbow.  This is where the common wrist flexor muscles arise from, and it is where golfer's elbow pain is felt.

Diagnosing Golfer's Elbow

There are no specific diagnostic tests for golfer's elbow, and diagnosis is typically made through description of the history of your elbow pain and through palpation or your medial elbow muscles and structures.

The symptoms of golfer's elbow typically include:

  • Pain on the inner, or medial side of your elbow
  • Forearm pain
  • Difficulty gripping and lifting items
  • Pain when flexing your wrist

If trauma such as a fall or sports injury caused your medial elbow pain, your doctor may take an x-ray to rule out an elbow fracture as the cause of your pain.

Physical Therapy for Golfer's Elbow

Your first physical therapy session for golfer's elbow will be an initial evaluation.  During this session, your PT will discuss the nature of your elbow pain with you, and he or she will likely perform specific tests and measurements to help determine the correct course of treatment.  Common measurements for golfer's elbow include:

Once your physical therapist gathers the necessary data about your condition, he or she can work with you to set rehab goals and to develop an appropriate plan of care.

Your plan of care for golfer's elbow may include various treatments and modalities designed to manage your pain and inflammation in the common flexor tendons.  Some of these modalities may include:

Your PT may also perform cross friction massage to the tendons along the inner side of your elbow. This technique helps to correct the mal-aligned scar tissue that may have developed during the course of your condition.

Remember that many treatments in physical therapy are passive, and there is some evidence that using passive treatments is not the best course of care for many musculoskeletal conditions.  If your physical therapist decides to use passive modalities, be sure to understand the purpose of such treatments and make sure that active exercise is a component of your rehabilitation.

Exercise for Golfer's Elbow

Your physical therapist may prescribe various exercises for you to do to manage your golfer's elbow.

 These exercises typically focus on restoring normal range of motion and strength to your elbow and wrist and to the muscles surrounding those joints.

Exercises may include:

  • Wrist flexor and extensor stretches
  • Wrist and elbow strengthening exercises
  • Elbow joint mobilization exercises
  • Exercises to improve the strength and stability of your shoulder and shoulder blade

Your physical therapist may prescribe exercises for you to do independently as part of a home exercise program.  Be sure you understand all of your exercises and make sure you are doing them properly.

During the course of your rehab, your PT may also focus time on restoring normal functional mobility in your arm.  He or she may prescribe high level plyometric exercises for your elbow, wrist, and shoulder if you are planning on returning to sports.

Once you start treating your golfer's elbow, you should notice improvement in your condition within a few weeks.  You can expect to be back to your normal activities within 4-6 weeks.  If your symptoms are severe or persist longer than 6 weeks, you may need to follow up with your doctor to investigate other treatments for your elbow including cortisone injections or surgery.

If you are feeling pain in the inner part of your elbow, you may have golfer's elbow or elbow medial epicondylitis.  You may benefit from a course of physical therapy to help decrease your pain and improve the functional mobility of your arm so you can quickly get back to your normal activities.

By Brett Sears, PT - Reviewed by a board-certified physician.