You may have heard of the terms tennis elbow or golfer’s elbow, but may not know what they are or how they’re different. Actually the two conditions share many things in common; they’re tendon injuries, usually caused by overuse, and both affect your elbow. That said, they’re completely different conditions.
Tennis Elbow, also called lateral epicondylitis, is an injury to the tendons that occur on the outside (lateral side) of your elbow. Your tendons are connective tissue that attach your muscles to the bones, and are engaged every time you move your arm. Tennis elbow occurs when the tendons become inflamed, a condition called tendonitis, or when the tendon fibers are damaged or develop tiny tears, called tendonosis. Both are considered to be tendonopathies.
Tennis elbow involves the forearm tendons that attach to the outside of your elbow. It’s usually caused by activities that involve repetitive movements or twisting of your wrist, including tennis and other racquet sports, swimming, and throwing. You can develop tennis elbow, even if you’re not involved in sports. Activities such as painting, working with tools, cutting (with scissors or a knife), typing, mousing and lifting can also trigger tennis elbow.
Often the first and most noticeable symptom of tennis elbow is pain. The pain may be localized in your elbow, or radiate down your forearm on the same side as the back of your hand. However, you may also have weakness in the forearm or when gripping, numbness or tingling in your hand, and sharp or shooting pain when you’re using the affected arm. If it’s not treated, tennis elbow can degenerate to the point where it can be painful and difficult to shake hands, lift a glass, open a jar, or brush your teeth.
Tennis elbow is most commonly diagnosed in people aged 30 to 50. And while you don’t need to be a tennis player to get it, tennis elbow affects about half of tennis players at some point in their lives, which accounts for its name.
Golfer’s elbow is also a tendonopathy of your elbow, but the tendons affected are on the inside (medial side) of your elbow. Golfer’s elbow is called medial epicondylitis, and with this condition, the pain is felt on the inside of your elbow. It may also radiate down to your hand, but on the inside or palm side of your forearm. Similar to tennis elbow, golfer’s elbow may also cause numbness, tingling, and weakness down your forearm, and into your hand—usually affecting your ring and little fingers.
While commonly seen in people who play golf, golfer’s elbow can also be caused by racquet sports, throwing, and repetitive movements. It can affect people who work in hands-on jobs such as construction and carpentry. Golfer’s elbow is also a frequent injury among weight lifters, caused by curling too heavy a weight or performing too many repetitions.
Treatments for Tennis and Golfer’s Elbow
At BodaHealth, our goal for patients who are experiencing elbow tendonopathies is to help them return to their normal activities as soon as possible. To make that happen, we offer a variety of treatments and healing strategies tailored to each patient’s individual needs. Among them:
- Acupuncture. In treating tendon issues, acupuncture is helpful in a number of ways. It reduces pain by boosting your body’s pain-relieving chemicals, called endorphins. Acupuncture also reduces inflammation in the affected area, increases the circulation of blood and nutrients, and stimulates the healing process. Acupuncture can be used in conjunction with a number of other therapies.
- Shockwave therapy is a healing protocol that uses pulsed acoustic (sound) waves to address tendon pain and promote healing. A number of research studies have found shock wave therapy to be an effective treatment for tendonopathies. This innovative therapy works by stimulating your body to increase the formation of minute blood vessels in the tendon and surrounding area, which help promote circulation of blood and nutrients needed for tendon healing.
- Hyaluronic acid injections are another innovative treatment that’s offered at BodaHealth. Research on the use of hyaluronic acid injections for tendonopathies has found that it can speed healing time. https://www.hindawi.com/journals/bmri/2014/783632/ Hyaluronic acid is a natural substance that’s found in your body. When used to treat tendon issues, it promotes cellular health, decreases inflammation, promotes healing, and cushions and supports your body’s connective tissues.
- Perineural Injection Therapy (PIT) is an excellent choice for golfers elbow. PIT involves the use of 5% dextrose solution in sterilized water injected into the inflamed areas. PIT helps calm painful conditions that involve nerves, inflammation and damaged tissue. The injected solution targets and calms pain receptors that don’t respond well to other therapies.
- Massage therapy is also an effective and appropriate treatment strategy for tennis or golfer’s elbow. Scientists have found that deep massage techniques can help improve circulation and stimulate the production of new collagen, an important component of tendon repair. As a result, deep massage can help to promote healing, improve tendon strength, and increase mobility.
- Clinical Pilates and Therapeutic exercise are also offered at BodaHealth. They involve a variety of exercises and movements to stretch and strengthen your forearm muscles. These treatments help to maintain your range of motion, prevent shortening of the muscles, promote circulation, and support healing and rehabilitation. Targeted stretches also help to elongate the muscle to tendon attachments, which help prevent further injury.
- If your tennis or golfer’s elbow is the result of a muscle imbalance or improper form, you may also benefit from working with our exercise physiologist or osteopathic practitioner. If your elbow tendonopathy is sports-related, our exercise physiologist is able to help pinpoint issues with form or technique that are contributing to your injury. Osteopathy may be called into play if you have musculoskeletal imbalances that are causing your elbow pain. Our osteopath is able to determine the source of your injury and correct it with hands-on techniques that involve gentle manipulation and adjustments.
Depending on your overall health and the nature of your elbow injury, other treatments may also be appropriate. These include nutritional assessment and counseling, Chinese herbs, vitamin supplementation, fascial stretching, and Tui Na (Chinese massage).
You may not think about how much you use your arms until they become injured. Then, every time you shake hands, turn a door knob, or open a jar, you’re painfully reminded. Whether you’re suffering from tennis or golfer’s elbow, at BodaHealth we have the knowledge and expertise to help you get back to your regular activities. Give us a call today to find out how to get started.