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

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

Tennis and golfer’s elbow cause similar symptoms, so they’re often mistaken for the same condition. Both result from repetitive movements and overuse, but they’re very different conditions. They cause pain in the forearm and elbow.

Our orthopedic team at Maryland Orthopedic Specialists often sees patients with both types of injury. And remember, you don’t have to play either sport to be diagnosed. 

Here’s the difference between golfer’s and tennis elbow and how we treat these conditions. 

The primary difference between tennis elbow and golfer’s elbow

While both golfer’s elbow and tennis elbow cause pain in the elbow and forearm, the location of the pain differs.

With golfer’s elbow, you have pain on the inside of the elbow. With tennis elbow, you have pain on the outside of the elbow. 

Causes of tennis elbow

Tennis elbow results from overuse of the wrist extensors, the muscles on the back of the forearm that direct wrist action. About 1-3% of Americans struggle with this injury every year. 

While playing tennis and swinging a racquet can be a cause, other activities can also result in this painful tendon injury, including:

Pain at the outside of the forearm, or lateral elbow, may be accompanied by grip weakness and numbness in the fingers and hand. 

Causes of golfer’s elbow

Golfer’s elbow occurs when you overuse the wrist flexors, the muscles on the front and middle part of your forearm that direct the wrist. You experience pain inside your elbow. Golfer’s elbow is less common than tennis elbow, affecting less than 1% of the population

Playing golf isn’t the only cause. You may develop golfer’s elbow from: 

A discussion of your lifestyle, work, and hobbies helps us with the diagnosis of golfer’s elbow.

Treating tennis and golfer’s elbow

Treatment for both conditions is quite similar. Resting the tendons can ease inflammation. When we identify the aggravating movement, we ask that you take time off of that activity. 

If your condition is a result of sports play, our physical therapy team can help you modify your grip for tennis backhand or golf swings. You may also consider different equipment for your game. 

A larger grip size makes it harder for you to over-squeeze and aggravate the muscles. Elbow straps can also reduce pain.

Preventing golfer’s and tennis elbow

Although it’s relatively easy to treat the inflammation of golfer’s and tennis elbow, nobody wants to be sidelined by an injury. 

Stretch, strengthen, and massage the forearm and wrist area regularly if you play one of these sports or participate in repetitive movement of the wrist and elbow. 

The way you swing your racquet or club also matters. Consider investing in a coach who can help you with biomechanics so you avoid the injuries altogether. 

Also consider limiting repetitive activity. Take breaks often from tasks that overuse the wrist extensors or flexors and don’t push through discomfort or fatigue.

If you do have pain in your elbow, our team here at Maryland Orthopedic Specialists is ready to help. Call our Bethesda or Germantown, Maryland, office at 301-515-0900 or set up an appointment here to get a comprehensive evaluation.

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