With these two conditions, the clue isn't in the name! Whilst playing golf or tennis MAY be the cause for either of these issues, it can be caused by any repetitive motion excessively stressing the elbow.
The condition golfers elbow refers to an overuse of the wrist flexors, resulting in forearm and elbow pain, specifically around the medial epicondyle (the inside) of the elbow. The inside of the elbow is the attachment of the tendons which flex the wrist, hence the location of pain.
Tennis elbow refers to an overuse of the wrist extensors; the extensors attach on the lateral epicondyle (outside) of the elbow. With tennis elbow, typically pain is localised around the outside of the elbow with the muscles along the top of the forearm feeling tight and painful.
What causes these conditions?
Both golfers and tennis elbow occur when the muscles of the forearm are subject to repeated or excessive stress. Golfers elbow is particularly common in throwing and racket sports, particularly when technique has not been optimised.
Tennis elbow can occur from racket sports but is also commonly seen in manual labourers due to the repetitive motions often associated with their work. The name tennis elbow is slightly misleading as one research paper suggested only 5 out of 100 people with this condition have reported it was due to tennis.
What is the treatment?
Both tennis and golfers elbow can be treated in the same way. These conditions will more often than not resolve without treatment once the aggravating activity is stopped.
Tendons have a poor blood supply and because of this, heal slowly, so many people choose treatment interventions to reduce pain and encourage healing. Physiotherapy treatment may include massage and manual therapies around the tendon to encourage blood flow to the area.
Initially, icing the area can help reduce pain after activity. Contrast bathing (alternating hot and cold compresses) can also encourage blood to the area, boosting the body's natural healing process.
If your tennis or golfers elbow occurred playing sport, ensure your technique is assessed by a qualified coach to make sure issues do not keep recurring. Often incorrect technique can overload the tendons, leading to issues.
Similarly, ensuring you are using correct equipment for your strength levels and ability is important. For example, using a tennis racket that is too heavy for you can overload the elbow and alter your natural tennis swing, which could lead to golfers or tennis elbow.
How to strengthen the forearm
Being strong enough to withstand forces is vital for all body parts, but of particular importance if you take part in racket sports or regularly do manual labouring activities.
Using a light weight or 1-2kg, rest your forearm on a surface such as a bench, and curl the wrist up towards the elbow. Performing 3 sets of 8-10 reps will build up strength in the forearm flexors.
Turn your forearm over and curl the wrist backwards towards the elbow. Repeat for the same sets and reps to build up strength in the wrist extensors.
As with any condition, prevention is always better than cure, so if you feel you are at risk of developing either of these conditions, add these simple strength exercises into your weekly schedule.