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Tennis Elbow vs. Golfer’s Elbow – What’s the Difference?

Feeling Pain In Your Elbow Region? You Might Have an Epicondylitis Condition

close up of torso of person holding elbow in pain

There’s a reason many patients confuse tennis elbow (lateral epicondylitis) and golfer’s elbow (medial epicondylitis) as they share quite a few characteristics:

  • Both are overuse injuries, caused by repetitive motions involving your arm and wrist
  • They both are caused by damage to the tendons that attach your forearm muscles to the bone at your elbow
  • They both cause inflammation of the tendons and cause pain in the elbow region
  • You don’t need to participate in the sport for which they’re named to get these conditions
  • Both start gradually but can get worse over time
  • Treatment for both is similar, beginning with giving your elbow and wrist a rest

Despite these similarities, these conditions are quite distinct. Determining the correct cause for your elbow pain is the best method for receiving proper treatment so it’s important to visit your doctor who can assess your elbow and give you an accurate diagnosis.

Tennis Elbow (Lateral Epicondylitis)

Tennis Elbow is a painful condition that occurs when tendons in your elbow are overloaded, usually by repetitive motions of the wrist and arm.

What causes Tennis Elbow?

Tennis elbow is an overuse and muscle strain injury. The cause is repeated contraction of the forearm muscles that you use to straighten and raise your hand and wrist. The repeated motions and stress to the tissue may result in a series of tiny tears in the tendons that attach the forearm muscles to the bony prominence at the outside of your elbow. Possible causes of lateral epicondylitis include:

  • Playing tennis — especially repeated use of the backhand stroke with poor technique 
  • Playing squash or badminton
  • Using plumbing tools
  • Painting
  • Bricklaying
  • Frequent use of scissors, shears or other styling tools
  • Driving screws or hammering nails
  • Cutting up cooking ingredients, particularly meat
  • Repetitive computer mouse use or excessive typing
  • Knitting or crocheting
  • Scrapbooking
  • Yard work

Signs and Symptoms of Tennis Elbow

The main symptom of Tennis Elbow is pain or burning sensation on the outer side of the elbow. Others symptoms may include some or all of the following:

  • Pain that radiates from the outside of your elbow into your forearm and wrist 
  • General weakness in the hand and wrist
  • Difficultly turning a doorknob, shaking hands, gripping an object, or holding a coffee mug

Golfer’s Elbow (Medial Epicondylitis)

Golfer’s Elbow is also known as baseball elbow, thrower’s elbow, suitcase elbow, or forehand tennis elbow. It is characterized by pain from the elbow to the wrist on the inside (medial side) of the elbow. The pain is caused by Inflammation of the tendons that connect the muscles of the forearm to the elbow.

What causes Golfer’s Elbow?

Golfer’s elbow is caused by the excessive force used to bend the wrist toward the palm. Possible causes of medial epicondylitis include:

  • Swinging a golf club 
  • Pitching a baseball
  • Throwing a football
  • Rowing
  • A forceful tennis serve or using a spin serve
  • Using a too tightly strung, too short, or too heavy tennis racket
  • Frequent use of hand tools by painters, carpenters, plumbers, or yard workers
  • Weak shoulder and wrist muscles
  • Throwing a javelin
  • Carrying a heavy suitcase
  • Chopping wood with an ax
  • Operating a chain saw
  • Athletes who weight train
  • Repetitive motion of the wrist and arm

Signs and Symptoms of Golfer’s Elbow

The main symptom of Golfer’s Elbow is pain in the bony bump on the inner side of the elbow. Others symptoms may include some or all of the following:

  • Pain that radiates to the forearm and wrist making it difficult to turn a doorknob, open a jar, or give a handshake 
  • Elbow stiffness or difficulty moving the elbow
  • General weakness in the hand and wrist
  • Tingling sensation or numbness in ring and/or pinkie finger

How is Tennis/Golfer’s Elbow diagnosed?

During the physical exam, your doctor may apply pressure to the affected area or ask you to move your elbow, wrist and fingers in various ways. If your doctor suspects that something else may be causing your symptoms, he or she may suggest X-rays or other types of imaging tests such as an MRI or EMG.

Tennis/Golfer’s Elbow Treatment

Your doctor or physical therapist will suggest treatments and exercises that over time will help to return you to normal function.  Many people have found relief from pain, stiffness, and weakness with the below home remedies.

  • Rest – Stop the activity that is producing the symptoms. Once the pain disappears, gradually ease back into activities
  • Apply an ice pack (in a towel) or apply a cold compress to reduce inflammation for up to 20 minutes, 3-4 times a day.
  • Minimize or change repetitive movements to reduce stress on the injured tissue
  • Perform stretching and strengthening exercises recommended by a physical therapist
  • Take anti-inflammatory medicines such as ibuprofen or acetaminophen
  • Wear an elbow brace
Bullseye Elbow Strap shown for tennis elbow vs. golfer's elbow

How The Bullseye Elbow Strap Might Help

Whether you have Tennis or Golfer’s Elbow, The Bullseye Elbow Strap is easy to position and adjust where relief is needed most. Designed to provide gentle targeted compression without causing a tourniquet effect. Patients can intuitively apply soothing massage by gently pressing on the center of the silicone pad.  Deep tissue massage has been proven to help speed healing.