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

Carolina Regional Orthopaedics tennis elbow

Tennis and golf are two popular sports requiring repetitive arm movements, sometimes leading to overuse injuries. Among the most common are tennis elbow and golfer’s elbow. Although both conditions affect the elbow, they have distinct differences in the affected tendons and symptoms. Understanding these disparities is essential for accurate diagnosis and effective treatment.

What is Tennis Elbow?

Tennis elbow, or lateral epicondylitis, is characterized by pain and inflammation in the tendons on the outside of the elbow. This condition can affect individuals engaged in any activity that involves repetitive forearm muscle use, not solely tennis players. People engaged in painting, typing, carpentry, and other similar activities can also develop tennis elbow.

What is Golfer’s Elbow?

In contrast, golfer’s elbow, or medial epicondylitis, affects the tendons on the inside of the elbow. This condition causes pain and inflammation where the tendons attach to the bony bump inside the elbow. Although it is commonly associated with golfers due to the repetitive swinging motion, golfer’s elbow can also affect individuals who perform actions such as throwing, chopping, and hammering.

What’s the Difference?

The primary distinction between tennis elbow and golfer’s elbow lies in the location of the pain. Tennis elbow causes pain on the outside of the elbow, radiating down the forearm and extending into the wrist. Conversely, golfer’s elbow induces pain on the inside of the elbow, often extending into the forearm and wrist.

Furthermore, the specific tendons affected differ between the two conditions. Tennis elbow impacts the extensor tendons responsible for wrist and finger extension. The affected tendons in tennis elbow connect the forearm muscles to the lateral epicondyle, a bony prominence located on the outside of the elbow. In contrast, golfer’s elbow affects the flexor tendons, which control wrist and finger flexion. These tendons attach to the medial epicondyle, the bony bump on the inside of the elbow.

How to Treat

Regarding treatment, both tennis elbow and golfer’s elbow can benefit from similar approaches. Conservative measures such as rest, ice, compression, and elevation (RICE) are initially recommended. Nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) can help manage pain and reduce inflammation.

Physical therapy plays a crucial role in the treatment of both conditions. It involves targeted exercises to strengthen the affected tendons, improve flexibility, and enhance endurance. Additionally, stretching exercises can alleviate tightness and enhance the range of motion.

A brace or splint may sometimes be prescribed to support and limit stress on the affected tendons. These devices are typically worn during activities that exacerbate the symptoms, providing stability and promoting healing.

Corticosteroid injections can reduce inflammation and provide temporary relief for severe or persistent cases. However, it is essential to exercise caution with repeated injections, as they can weaken the tendons.

Surgery is rarely necessary for tennis elbow or golfer’s elbow, but it may be recommended when conservative treatments fail to alleviate symptoms over an extended period. Surgical intervention involves removing damaged tissue and repairing any tendon tears.

Tennis elbow and golfer’s elbow are distinct overuse injuries that affect the elbow. Different tendons and locations are involved, which leads to variations in symptoms. Accurate diagnosis and appropriate treatment are vital for a successful recovery. Whether you are a tennis player, golfer, or engaged in other activities involving repetitive arm movements, seeking early medical attention and implementing conservative measures can help alleviate symptoms and expedite healing.

Carolina Regional Orthopaedics, P.A.

Are you suffering from elbow joint pain? Carolina Regional Orthopaedics, P.A. can help. After a thorough examination, we will develop a treatment plan to have you on the court swinging again in no time. Contact us at 252-443-0400 and schedule an appointment today.