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Tennis Elbow vs. Golfer’s Elbow: What’s the Difference?

tennis elbow treatments

Physical Therapy Relieves Common Causes of Elbow Joint Pain

People who have never held a tennis racket or swung a golf club can still be plagued by tennis elbow or golfer’s elbow.

These ailments aren’t so much named because they develop from playing these much-loved sports, but rather that they occur because of repetitive motions similar to those performed in them.

Both cause pain within the elbow joint, both involve tendons and muscles, and both are forms of epicondylitis, which is tendon inflammation where they connect within the joint. What really sets them apart is the difference in the precise location of the pain.

Let’s review these two common causes of elbow joint pain, including their symptoms and treatments.

Where Does Tennis Elbow Cause Pain?

Tennis elbow affects the outside epicondyle. Your orthopedic surgeon may call this the lateral epicondyle. Affected muscles are the extensor carpi radialis brevis and extensor digitorum communis in your forearm.

With tennis elbow, you may experience pain on the outside of your elbow and forearm and wrist. The pain generally starts in the elbow and radiates downward, or feels like a constant ache. Some people only feel the pain when they’re actively performing activities using their injured arms.

You may also notice symptoms like:

  • Difficulty grasping or lifting objects, like your coffee cup
  • Weakened grip strength
  • Sharp pain when moving your elbow, or pain that moves into your wrist
  • Numbness or tingling in your fingers

Where Does Golfer’s Elbow Cause Pain?

Golfer’s elbow affects the inside epicondyle. You’ll hear your orthopedic surgeon call this medial tendon inflammation. Affected muscles are the flexor carpi radialis and pronator teres in your arm.

Golfer’s elbow usually occurs when you repeatedly twist or flex your wrist. You may experience pain when you lift your wrist or hand, twist your forearm, or make a fist.

You may also notice:

  • Tenderness in your inner elbow
  • Stiffness
  • Hand and wrist weakness
  • Numbness and tingling in your fingers, usually your ring finger and pinky.

Diagnosing the Causes of Elbow Joint Pain

An orthopedic surgeon can diagnose tennis elbow or golfer’s elbow based on your symptoms, and whether you have a history of elbow injuries or medical conditions like rheumatoid arthritis, nerve disease, or other connective tissue diseases.

During the exam, your doctor will ask you to move your arm in specific ways, such as straightening your wrist and fingers or rotating your arm. Sometimes, an orthopedic surgeon will order X-rays, an EMG, or an MRI to rule out alternative diagnoses like stress fractures or joint disease.

Treatment for Elbow Pain

If you start noticing pain on the inside or outside of your elbow and suspect epicondylitis, you’ll want to immediately take a break from the movements that have caused the problem.

Applying ice will help reduce pain and any swelling you’re experiencing, and over-the-counter anti-inflammatory pain medications can help too. (Always ask your medical doctor before taking any new medications, especially if you take prescription drugs.)

Unfortunately, elbow joint pain like this can take weeks of rest for symptoms to disappear, so you’ll probably want to make an appointment with a specialty physician, like Mid-America Orthopedics.

An orthopedic surgeon can treat your tennis elbow or golfer’s elbow using a variety of methods, depending on how severe your pain is, starting with the most conservative treatment.

  • Wearing an elbow brace during the day. A brace applies pressure on muscles around the elbow and relieves discomfort. Your orthopedic surgeon will choose the proper brace for you.
  • Getting a cortisone injection. Cortisone helps reduce inflammation and relieve elbow joint pain in the short-term.
  • Performing physical therapy. A customized exercise program strengthens your arm muscles, combined with modalities like ultrasound and massage. The ultimate goal is to prevent future injury.
  • Undergoing surgery. Surgery is generally a last resort for chronic tendon pain.

Mid-America Orthopedics in Kansas City Specializes in Shoulder and Elbow Pain

The team at Mid-America Orthopedics evaluates and treats both shoulder and elbow pain for residents of the Kansas City metro area. Our treatment goes beyond telling you how to fix your problem at this one point in time; we’ll also help you learn why you’re in pain in the first place, so we can take steps together to prevent it in the future.

You use your shoulders and elbows every day, and they work together to allow you to move your arms while you work and play. Maintaining your range of motion, strengthening your muscles, and preventing pain are all important steps we take with every patient who comes to us looking for relief.

If you’re experiencing elbow joint pain, call us at 913-232-9846 to make an appointment. Our same-day and next-day availability means you can start to feel better faster, and quickly get back to enjoying your hobbies.