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Everything you need to know about golfer's elbow and how it can be treated
It arises due to overloading of the flexor tendons of the forearm and is often associated with increased periods of unaccustomed strenuous activity with the forearm muscles. Common examples may be an increase in computer use (especially if there is a poor ergonomic setup), DIY tasks involving gripping and twisting with the wrist/hand and sometimes racket sports.
It is often referred to as a ‘Golfer’s Elbow’ due to the fact that this tendon bears high load when playing golf. Excessive right wrist flexion (bending the wrist in the direction of the palm) in a right-handed golfer may be responsible.
Although golf players can develop a ‘golfer’s elbow’ the vast majority of individuals who develop symptoms do so as a result of repetitive flexion at the wrist while performing lifting and carrying tasks. Hence the term medial epicondylitis is frequently used.
Often you will only find it painful when you are using your lower arm and wrist. However, in some cases the pain is more constant. It might be hard for you to hold things and you could experience stiffness that makes it hard to extend or straighten your arm. The pain may travel down your arm from your elbow towards your wrist.
If your elbow pain is chronic, it can have a debilitating effect on your life, affecting your everyday tasks, sleep, work and personal relationships.
They might ask:
Fortunately, diagnosing elbow pain can usually be achieved through a physical examination of your elbow and an assessment of your medical history.
Depending on your symptoms, other diagnostic tests might be used to rule out other causes of your elbow pain. These tests include: a elbow X-Ray, an ultrasound or an MRI. Your doctor will explain these tests to you if they are needed.
We have an expert team on site to support your treatment, including physiotherapists, sports and exercise consultants, radiologists, neurologists and more, to make sure your recovery is as fast, effective and convenient as possible.
If you are coming to us directly (rather than via GP or insurance referral), we offer very competitively priced self-pay packages, along with payment plan options to help make private healthcare accessible and affordable for all.
There are a few different ways golfer’s elbow can be treated.
Painkillers might help manage your pain. Paracetamol or an anti-inflammatory medicine like ibuprofen often reduces pain, helping to improve your mobility.
The Arthritis Foundation recommends heat treatment for joint pain. According to the foundation, a heating pad will help relax your joints, improving your mobility and reducing pain. Alternatively, placing a cold compress on your elbow throughout the day could numb your elbow, reducing pain and providing relief,
Golfer’s elbow brace
if you are continuing to use your affected arm, you may need to wear a brace or compression strap. This can help to minimise tension and ease stress on the affected elbow.
Golfer’s elbow exercises
According to the National Institute of Health Research, physiotherapy services are an important way to prevent and reduce the negative impacts of musculoskeletal conditions, improving patients’ lives.
Circle Health Group physiotherapists can work with you to create a programme of exercises that will help your elbow to get back to normal. Starting off gently, these physical therapies will help to build strength and restore motion to your arm.
Your physical therapist will recommend strengthening exercises for you to do several times a day. It is important to follow your exercise regime diligently to reap its benefits.
Golfer’s elbow surgery
If you have tried other treatments across several months and are still in significant pain, your Consultant might recommend surgery. During the operation, your surgeon will remove any damaged tendons. This should take around half an hour, and you should be able to get back to your regular activities within a few weeks, depending on how the elbow heals.
You may be required to attend physiotherapy sessions which are often a very effective and evidenced based treatment for tennis elbow. Exercises involve gradually strengthening exercises for the forearm muscles which gradually increase the amount of load, thereby strengthening the affected tendon. In severe cases, you may require injections into the elbow joint to relieve swelling and pain.
In some cases, an operation will be required to release the inflamed tendon, debride it and repair where necessary.
The procedure is carried out before the start of your operation. You will have a small plastic tube placed in your arm (drip). Then you may have some sedation to make you feel relaxed. A small numbing injection in the skin is placed prior to the block needle (which is smaller than a blood-taking needle). Your arm will then start to feel very heavy and numb (a similar sensation to when you have been lying on it). This spreads down the outside of the arm (and spares the inside).
Surgery is then carried out under sedation (you are comfortable, relaxed and either awake or sleeping if you prefer) or occasionally under general anaesthesia (you are unconscious and unaware). If you are awake, you are welcome to watch the procedure on a TV screen, and we will explain to you what is happening. If you require any extra pain relief during the procedure, we can easily give you this through your drip. The block will reduce the overall amount of painkilling drugs that you will require during and after the operation.
The numbness will usually last for between 8 and 24 hours (depending on anaesthetic mixture used). We will leave your arm in a sling; please protect your arm whilst it is numb.
You will initially experience some ‘pins and needles’ as the block wears off and then some pain. Please prepare for this by taking the painkillers that we provide. Start these before the block wears off and expect to need them regularly for around 48hrs.
Occasionally we may recommend that at the time of the block we also place a small tube (catheter) that is fixed in place and through which we can give you further local anaesthetic to prolong your numbness for a few days. We would recommend this in situations where your pain after the operation is likely to be severe.
Anaesthesia is fairly safe for most people. If your health is not good the risks may be increased. Commoner complications include nausea and sore throat.
Local anaesthetic nerve blocks are generally considered to be safe. There is an approximately 5% (1 in 20) chance that they will fail or not work as well as expected. They tend to cause a small pupil and droopy eyelid temporarily and you may notice a hoarse voice or slight breathlessness.
Rare complications include reactions to the local anaesthetic solutions and nerve injury (the risk of temporary nerve symptoms e.g. tingling, numbness or weakness for a limited period is around 1 in 100 blocks and the overall risk of permanent injury approximately 1 in 5,000- 10,000 injections).
Paracetamol and an anti-inflammatory drug (if suitable for you – usually ibuprofen or diclofenac) are often used in combination. Take these regularly for the first few days.
Your anaesthetist will talk to you about strong painkillers, usually codeine, tramadol, oxycodone or morphine. Take these if your pain is poorly controlled (instructions will be on the packet). Some patients experience light-headedness when taking stronger painkillers; so be careful especially at first (rest up after taking them, don’t carry hot drinks or anything sharp) and take them only to counteract severe discomfort. Nausea and constipation can also occur, so drink plenty of water and increase the fibre in your diet; occasionally laxatives may be required (available from chemists).
If you are discharged on the same day as your operation, there should be someone keeping an eye on you during the first 24-hour period. If the painkillers make you excessively drowsy, then your carer needs to rouse you and ensure you not too sensitive to them.
Emergency contact numbers will be available on your discharge information if you or your carer wishes to talk to a trained member of staff.
If a surgical release is considered, this is a generally safe procedure but there are some potential complications you should be aware of. These affect a very small percentage of patients.