Got Golfer's Elbow? How to Get Relief, Plus PT-Recommended Exercises

If your inner elbow hurts, it could be due to golfer's elbow. Get tips and exercises from physical therapists to get back on course.

Published Date: Oct 10, 2023
a-woman-feeling-inner-elbow-pain

Got Golfer's Elbow? How to Get Relief, Plus PT-Recommended Exercises

If your inner elbow hurts, it could be due to golfer's elbow. Get tips and exercises from physical therapists to get back on course.

Published Date: Oct 10, 2023
a-woman-feeling-inner-elbow-pain

Got Golfer's Elbow? How to Get Relief, Plus PT-Recommended Exercises

If your inner elbow hurts, it could be due to golfer's elbow. Get tips and exercises from physical therapists to get back on course.

Published Date: Oct 10, 2023
a-woman-feeling-inner-elbow-pain

Got Golfer's Elbow? How to Get Relief, Plus PT-Recommended Exercises

If your inner elbow hurts, it could be due to golfer's elbow. Get tips and exercises from physical therapists to get back on course.

Published Date: Oct 10, 2023
a-woman-feeling-inner-elbow-pain
Table of Contents

Ever hit your funny bone? You know how painful it is. Discomfort in that same area, even if you haven’t banged it, has a name: medial epicondylitis, or golfer’s elbow. And this is key: You don’t even need to play golf to get it! “Golfer’s elbow is a form of tendonitis that causes inner elbow pain,” says Jillian Aeder, PT, DPT, a physical therapist at Hinge Health. It’s relatively rare — it affects less than one percent of the population — but it can make it more challenging to do everything from yes, golf, to typing on your computer to cooking. 

The good news is that most of the time, this inner elbow pain responds to fairly simple at-home treatments like stretching and strengthening exercises. Here’s how to get back into the swing of things, with tips and exercises from Hinge Health physical therapists.

Our Hinge Health Experts

Jillian Aeder, PT, DPT
Physical Therapist
Dr. Aeder is a Hinge Health physical therapist and a board-certified athletic trainer.
Dylan Peterson, PT, DPT
Physical Therapist and Clinical Reviewer
Dr. Peterson is a Hinge Health physical therapist who focuses on developing clinical exercise therapy programs and member education.
Jonathan Lee, MD, MBA
Orthopedic Surgeon and Medical Reviewer
Dr. Lee is a board-certified orthopedic surgeon and an Associate Medical Director at Hinge Health.

What Is Golfer’s Elbow?

Golfer’s elbow is often confused with tennis elbow. But the two are very different. Here’s the deal: Each of your elbows has two epicondyles, which are bony protrusions that you can feel on either side of your elbows. Your tendons and other connective tissues attach to them.

When you have golfer’s elbow, the tendon on the inside of your elbow is irritated. With tennis elbow, however, it’s the tendon near the bump on the outside of your elbow that gets aggravated, explains Dr. Aeder.

Golfer’s elbow usually happens in people in their 40s and 50s, but you can get it at any age, and affects men and women equally. It usually occurs in your dominant arm.

Symptoms of Golfer’s Elbow

Golfer’s elbow often develops slowly over time. It can occur from a sudden increase in a certain activity (like shoveling lots of snow during an intense winter storm). Sometimes, golfer’s elbow just shows up — the pain pops up one day and lingers, often getting worse with certain activities, like lifting more weight than your body is ready for at the time. In general, golfer’s elbow symptoms include:

  • Pain that starts at your elbow and radiates through your forearm. “In general, this is the main symptom,” says Dr. Aeder.

  • Difficulty gripping or lifting objects.

  • Sharp twinges of pain when engaged in activities that involve elbow movement.

  • Pain during or after activities involving your wrist.

  • Numbness or tingling in your fingers.

  • A dull ache in your elbow when resting.

  • General weakness or stiffness in the elbow.

Common Causes of Golfer’s Elbow

Golfer’s elbow usually occurs when you do more than what your body is currently ready for. “It tends to be caused by any sort of activity that causes repetitive gripping,” explains Dr. Aeder. Here are some common golfer’s elbow causes:

  • Certain sports. You can get golfer’s elbow from (of course) golf because you simply grip the clubs so tightly. But other activities can cause it, too. These include tennis (gripping the tennis racquet very hard), or even throwing sports such as baseball, softball, or football.

  • Weight training. Certain movements during strength training can contribute to golfer's elbow -- such as curling your wrists during a biceps exercise -- if your body isn't used to these motions. Doing exercise therapy to stretch and strengthen your arms and wrists (see some moves below) can help you adapt. This can lead to golfer’s elbow.

  • Your job. If you’re on your computer all day, you can develop golfer’s elbow simply by gripping your mouse tightly, says Dr. Aeder. You may also get it from manual labor jobs that require forceful, repetitive movements like construction, plumbing, and carpentry.

Treatment Options for Golfer’s Elbow

Most people can recover from golfer’s elbow within about six to 12 weeks. Golfer’s elbow treatment includes:

  • Targeted exercises. Stretching movements can improve elbow and wrist mobility and may help relieve symptoms. Strengthening exercises will also strengthen surrounding muscles, to take pressure off of your elbow. See some of the exercises in the next section for examples to try.

  • Ice. “I always recommend ice cupping, because ice can help relieve inflammation around your elbow bone,” says Dr. Aeder. To make an ice cup, take a small paper cup and fill it three-quarters of the way up with water. Freeze it, then, when you want to use it, peel out a piece from the bottom of the cup so that the ice is exposed. Then apply that to your elbow. (And use a towel to catch any drips from the other end.)

  • Self-massage. Dr. Aeder recommends that you simply place your thumb over the sore area, and massage it for 10-15 minutes to help increase blood flow and bring in healing nutrients. 

  • Over-the-counter medications. Pain relievers such as ibuprofen (Advil, Motrin), naproxen (Aleve), and acetaminophen (Tylenol) can help with elbow pain. Sometimes topical medications such as diclofenac can also make you feel better. It’s important to make sure that you are safely able to take these medications, based on your medical history.

  • Arm brace. Wearing a brace may reduce pressure on the injured tendon in your elbow. You can use it while you work or play sports. Just make sure to use it so that the brace cushion rests on your forearm muscles (about three to four inches from the tip of your elbow bone).

  • Physical therapy. If your symptoms don’t get better with the above tips after a couple of weeks, Dr. Aeder recommends a course of elbow physical therapy (PT). Your PT can teach you more targeted exercises, as well as ways to move your elbow in your daily activities and hobbies that don’t cause as much pain. 

You can see a physical therapist in person or use a program like Hinge Health to access a PT via a telehealth visit.

Inner Elbow Pain Exercises

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  • Wrist Flexor
  • Wrist Bend
  • Seated Wrist Pronation
  • Towel Squeezes
  • Elbow Curls

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These golfer’s elbow exercises are recommended by Hinge Health therapists to alleviate pain and strengthen the muscles in your wrists and arms, to keep inner elbow pain from coming back.

The information contained in these videos is intended to be used for educational purposes only and does not constitute medical advice or treatment for any specific condition. Hinge Health is not your healthcare provider and is not responsible for any injury sustained or exacerbated by your use of or participation in these exercises. Please consult with your healthcare provider with any questions you may have about your medical condition or treatment.

PT Tip: Mix It Up 

Mix up your activities throughout the day to prevent golfer’s elbow. “It’s all about variety and not doing the same thing,” says Dr. Aeder. That might mean changing your paintbrush grip if you’re a painter, or using your mouse or keyboard differently throughout the day. 

How Hinge Health Can Help You

If you have joint or muscle pain that makes it hard to move, you can get the relief you’ve been looking for with Hinge Health’s online exercise therapy program.

The best part: You don’t have to leave your home because our program is digital. That means you can easily get the care you need through our app, when and where it works for you.

Through our program, you’ll have access to therapeutic exercises and stretches for your condition. Additionally, you’ll have a personal care team to guide, support, and tailor ou program to you.

See if you qualify for Hinge Health and confirm free coverage through your employer or benefit plan here.

This article and its contents are provided for educational and informational purposes only and do not constitute medical advice or professional services specific to you or your medical condition.

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References

  1. Maughan, R. J., & Shirreffs, S. M. (2019). Muscle Cramping During Exercise: Causes, Solutions, and Questions Remaining. Sports Medicine. doi:10.1007/s40279-019-01162-1

  2. Pieters, Louise, et al. (2020, March). An Update of Systematic Reviews Examining the Effectiveness of Conservative Physical Therapy Interventions for Subacromial Shoulder Pain. Journal of Orthopaedic & Sports Physical Therapy. doi:10.2519/jospt.2020.8498.

  3. Alzahrani, Wael M. (2022, August).Platelet-Rich Plasma Injections as an Alternative to Surgery in Treating Patients with Medial Epicondylitis: A Systematic Review. Cureus. doi:org/10.7759/cureus.28378. 

  4. Elbow Tendinopathy (Tennis and Golf Elbow). (2022, October). UptoDate https://www.uptodate.com/contents/elbow-tendinopathy-tennis-and-golf-elbow

  5. Golfer’s Elbow. (2018, May). National Library of Medicinehttps://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/books/NBK507002/