You don’t often think about your elbow, until it is almost impossible to brush your teeth, pick up your cup of coffee or shake someone’s hand due to severe pain. Elbow pain can pop up seemingly randomly and wreak havoc on your ability to do every day activities and participate in the sports that you love. Here is a quick review of why it happens, how to try to avoid it and what to do if you end up with an ache.
The two most frequently experienced problems are called tennis elbow and golfer’s elbow. Each earned their name from the sport in which they are most often seen, but both issues commonly affect people who have never played either sport.
Tennis elbow is caused by overuse of the forearm muscles and tendons that attach to the outside of the elbow. It’s associated with tennis because it can be caused by poor backhand stroke techniques. However, it can also happen with repetitive wrist or forearm movements associated with activities such as gardening, painting and using the computer keyboard and mouse.
Golfer’s elbow results from overuse of the forearm muscles and tendons that attach to the inside of the elbow. These forearm muscles are responsible for gripping and stabilizing the elbow. The repetitive nature of the golf swing, along with the leverage it applies to the elbow, are why it is a common issue for golfers. However, it too can be caused by any activity requiring repetitive gripping including throwing sports, weight training, cooking and yard work.
Avoiding these overuse injuries of the elbow involves considering a number of factors:
If you are new to tennis, golf or any other sport consider lessons to learn the basic skills properly.
Heavier equipment and smaller diameter grip handles increase the risk for injury. Make sure you are using the best racquet/club/tool for you.
Warm-up and stretch
Consider easing into play with a rally before tennis or some practice swings before playing golf. Stretching your forearm muscles (both inside and outside) after activity can relieve tension in the muscle to reduce stress at the elbow.
If you do begin to experience elbow pain, try to determine the offending activity and rest from it (and anything else that is now painful to do) for a few days. See a physiotherapist to discuss the correct stretches, modalities (ice, heat or acupuncture), massage therapy and bracing that can get you faster relief and return to activity. Your physiotherapist can also evaluate your technique and give you strengthening exercises to prevent re-injury. Be proactive to get back in the game!