Golfer’s elbow – diagnosis, treatments, and prevention

△ Releasing the tension of the thick common flexor muscles 1-2 inches away from the medial epicondyle is the most important for treating the golfer's elbow. Imageⓒshutterstock_valiantsin suprunovich

By Winston Lee L. Ac, Ph.D., KMD

If anybody plays a lot of golf, especially if anybody swings a lot on a mat for practice rather than grass, they may experience pain on the medial side of the elbow. The part where the elbow touches the body when the palm is facing up is the elbow’s medial side, where the golfer’s elbow often occurs. The muscles attached to this side act in bending the wrist, not the elbow, but generate the greatest strength until the moment they hit the ball with the maximum speed after the backswing with the club. If they repeat this motion too much, the muscles and tendons in this area have significantly increased chances of being injured. It is easy to get this injury, especially if they repeat the motion of hitting the ground in a short time.

The major symptom is pain on the medial side of the elbow, but it hurts more when a patient bends the wrist or holds something. Therefore, when opening a door or a lid, they complain of pain by shouting ‘ouch.’ When they pick up a bag or something from the floor, they also feel annoying pain as they have to use their wrist and elbow. If this symptom is ignored for a long time, later, numbness appears in hand, and it feels like electricity is flowing.

The best remedy for this symptom is not to exercise for several weeks. First, the patient must put a cold ice pad on the spot without making a golf swing. Hot pads are necessary in the case of chronic pain more than two weeks after the onset of pain, but at the beginning of the pain, ice pads are more appropriate. If anybody often experiences a golfer’s elbow, even if it doesn’t hurt after practicing golf swing, they can prevent it by putting an ice pad on the spot. And even in everyday life, if possible, it is helpful to wear a band on the wrist so as not to bend it too much. Again, the muscle attached to the medial side of the elbow acts to bend the wrist, not the elbow, so you should wear a band that provides some pressure to prevent the wrist from bending.

It is even better if they apply acupressure over here. When a golfer’s elbow occurs, the thick common flexor muscles that run from the medial side of the elbow to the little finger become tensed and stiff. At this time, if a doctor gently releases this muscle’s tension with the doctor’s hand or a tennis ball, recovery from injury caused by the golfer’s elbow is accelerated. A doctor needs to be careful of the fact that it shouldn’t be applied with too much pressure on the median side of the elbow where the tendon injury occurred. The key for the treatment is to release the tension of the thick common flexor muscles 1-2 inches away from the medial epicondyle.

Steroids are a type of artificial hormone therapy that quickly reduces inflammation anywhere in the body. Steroid injections may be considered in cases of severe muscle or tendon injuries. Many see immediate pain relief after this procedure. However, if they overuse this above a certain level, the muscles and tendons will become weaker, so it is not recommended to use it without limitation. After this procedure, the pain suddenly disappears, but in reality, there are cases where the tendons are completely ruptured and urgent surgery is required right after playing the golf swing intensively, even though the steroid injections weaken the area.

In eastern medicine, acupuncture is applied to injured muscles and tendons to help them recover quickly. Although acupressure and massage are also effective, it is difficult actually to deliver the effect on the deep muscles. In the case of acupuncture treatment, the speed of recovery after the damage is very good because it accurately locates the damaged deep area and gives micro-stimulation effectively. After acupuncture, it has been proven through several papers that the effect is more excellent when electrical stimulation of an appropriate size and wavelength is applied to the area. A typical acupuncture meridian suitable for this is HT, of which the point of HT3, common flexor muscles, or tendons near the medial epicondyle of the elbow.

In addition, sports taping, which gives the muscles and tendons of the area support, has another good effect. Sports taping is a special product that exactly fits the elasticity of human skin and muscles, so it has very good effects with almost no side effects for muscle and tendon problems.