Fix Your Golf or Tennis Elbow

Our trainer explains how to tell if you have golfer's or tennis elbow. and then how to recover.

Golfer's and tennis elbow, or medial and lateral epicondylitis, will affect you far beyond your performance on the green or court. This nagging and painful inflammation can affect everyday activity as you type, pick up your kids, and even brush your teeth. Despite the names, golfer's and tennis elbow are not restricted to athletes. Overuse and lack of shoulder stability can hurt anyone.

Diagnosing Golfer's Elbow
Medial epicondylitis (ME) refers to pain that generates in the medial epicondyle, the bony bump in the inside of your arm — if you hold your elbow out to the side, the pain would be on the bottom of the joint. That little bony protuberance is incredibly important to the function of your arm. The ulnar collateral ligament attaches there (which is what's replaced in Tommy John surgery), as does the muscle that turns your palm downward and flexes the forearm at the elbow, and the common flexor tendon, which attaches to many of the flexors of the forearm. Simply put, the medial epicondyle is critical to healthy functioning of the elbow and forearm.

Patients with ME often complain of pain starting at the medial epicondyle and sometimes extending down the forearm, stiffness in the elbow, weakness in the hands and wrist, and sometimes numbness and/or tingling in the ring and pinky finger due to compression of the ulnar nerve.

Diagnosing Tennis Elbow
Later epicondyliitis occurs on the opposite side of your elbow, where the muscles and tendons attach to the bony protuberance called the lateral epicondyle. Symptoms include pain on the outside of the elbow, pain gripping or squeezing with hands, and/or weakness in your grip strength.

Treatment
Think of golfer's and tennis elbows as misuse (not overuse) injuries. They stem from decreased shoulder stability and increased force through the forearm and wrist as your body compensates for instability.

Classic treatment entails rest, icing, pain relievers, stretching, and even surgery. While this may alleviate immediate symptoms, it won't address why the pain came in the first place, and how to prevent it from returning. Strengthening and increasing shoulder stability while releasing tightness in the forearm and wrist will help treat both. Here are four releases and two strength moves to achieve just that.

Tricep Release

  • Lying on your side, place a foam roller or lacrosse ball under your tricep at tender and tight locations.
  • Extend and retract the forearm, bending at the elbow.
  • Perform 10–15 repetitions on each tender and tight spot. 

Bicep Release

  • Place a lacrosse ball just above your elbow crease.
  • If you don't have a lacrosse ball, you can use your opposite hand to apply pressure to your biceps.
  • Flex and extend your elbow back and forth until you feel discomfort in that area decrease.
  • Move the ball along multiple sore spots up the arm.

Forearm Extensor Release

  • Find the muscles below your elbow by extending your wrist backward and feeling for the muscles contracting.
  • Motion 1: Flex and extend wrist while maintaining a comfortable pressure, rotate your forearm in and out in a twisting motion. Repeat as necessary along the length of this muscle group until muscles feel adequately released. 
  • Motion 2: While maintaining a comfortable pressure, actively extend and flex your wrist up and down through full range of motion. Repeat as necessary along the length of this muscle group until muscles feel adequately released. 

Forearm Flexor Release

  • Place one to two fingers or your thumb on the muscle mass located on the inside part of your elbow. To help you find it, flex your wrist forward and feel for the muscles contracting.
  • Motion 1: While maintaining a comfortable pressure, rotate your forearm in and out in a twisting motion. Repeat as necessary along the length of this muscle group until muscles feel adequately released. 
  • Motion 2: While maintaining a comfortable pressure, actively extend and flex your wrist up and down through full range of motion. Repeat as necessary along the length of this muscle group until muscles feel adequately released. 

Downward Dog Push Up

  • In a push-up position, lift your hips toward the ceiling, forming an upside down V shape. Be sure the back and both legs are straight, with the heels as close to the floor as possible.
  • Both hands should be splayed and facing outward. With both arms straight push into the ground to activate the lats, keeping the shoulders down and back.
  • In this position bend at the elbows, lowering your head to the ground, then push back to starting position.

Kneeling Angels  

  • Exercise can be performed using resistance bands or a cable machine.
  • Kneel on a pad under a cable machine or with a resistance band anchored overhead. Keep your chest upright, shoulders down and back, abs engaged. Keep feet hip width apart and behind you.
  • Start with arms raised and elbows at a 90-degree angle, in a goal post position.
  • Draw your elbows down and in to your sides while squeezing your shoulder blades together.
  • Raise your arms to the starting position.

See more moves to boost your shoulder stability and strength.