Medical Moment: Understanding the differences of tennis elbow and golfer’s elbow

Dr. Chia Wu

Tennis and golf are popular recreational activities that millions enjoy, but both require repetitive arm movements, leading to potential elbow strain. Two common conditions associated with these sports are tennis elbow and golfer’s elbow.  

“Despite their names, these conditions can affect anyone who engages in repetitive wrist and forearm movements, not just those who play sports,” explains Dr. Chia Wu, an orthopedic surgeon specializing in the hand and elbow at Houston Methodist Baytown Hospital.  

So, how do the two injuries differ?  

Tennis elbow, clinically known as lateral epicondylitis, is a condition characterized by inflammation and pain on the outer part of the elbow. It isn’t exclusive to tennis players and can occur in individuals who engage in repetitive gripping activities, such as painting, carpentry, or typing. The condition primarily affects the junction where the extensor musculature attaches to the lateral epicondyle, a bony bump on the outer part of the elbow.  

“Common symptoms of tennis elbow include pain and tenderness on the outer part of the elbow, weak grip strength, and pain that is made worse by gripping, lifting, or twisting movements,” said Dr. Wu.  

Golfer’s elbow, or medial epicondylitis, is a condition characterized by pain and inflammation on the inner part of the elbow. Similar to tennis elbow, it is not limited to golfers and can affect individuals who perform repetitive wrist flexing and gripping motions, such as lifting weights and using tools.  

“Golfer’s elbow happens due to overuse and strain on the flexor muscles of the forearm, leading to inflammation in the tendons that attach to the bony bump on the inner part of the elbow,” said Dr. Wu.  

Symptoms of golfer’s elbow include pain and tenderness on the inner part of the elbow. This can manifest as weakness in the wrist and pain worsened by gripping, lifting, or flexing the wrist.  

Treatment options for both tennis elbow and golfer’s elbow are similar but can vary depending on the extent of the strain.  

“Giving the affected area time to heal by avoiding activities that aggravate the pain is the first step in healing,” explains Dr. Wu. “Bracing, anti-inflammatory medication, and a structured therapy program can help alleviate the pain and inflammation.” In severe cases, steroid injections or even surgery may be necessary.  

If left untreated, both conditions can become disabling from chronic pain, so it is vital to see a specialist if you are experiencing symptoms.   “Prompt medical attention can help individuals overcome these elbow issues and return to their daily activities pain-free,” says Dr. Wu.  

For more information, visit houstonmethodist.org/orthopedics or call 281.427.7400.

About Houston Methodist Baytown Hospital Houston Methodist Baytown Hospital has provided Baytown and east Harris, Liberty and Chambers counties with excellent medical care since its opening in 1948. The hospital continues to grow to meet the health care needs of its growing community through an ongoing construction and renovation program that has seen the opening of a new five-story patient tower, emergency center, outpatient center and medical-surgical units. As a health care leader, the hospital is proud to have a fully integrated residency program focused on educating and inspiring future practitioners. Today, Houston Methodist Baytown provides the most advanced and innovative procedures while never wavering from its focus on compassionate care and providing a safe, patient-centered healing environment. Houstonmethodist.org/baytown.

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