You’ve developed a nagging pain in your elbow that, perhaps, radiates into your forearm, and a quick Internet search tells you that you might have golfer’s or tennis elbow. Not only are these conditions slightly different, they may have little to do with golf or tennis.
In this month’s blog post, the team here at William Schell, MD, led by Dr. Schell, wants to focus on two of the more common causes of elbow pain — tennis elbow and golfer’s elbow — and the differences between the two.
Anatomy of your elbow
Your elbows are joints that bring together three bones, including your:
- Humerus (upper arm bone)
- Radius (forearm bone)
- Ulna (also a forearm bone)
At the bottom of your forearm are bumps called epicondyles that act as anchors for the tendons and muscles that travel down your forearm.
Tennis elbow versus golfer’s elbow
Both tennis and golfer’s elbow are “repetitive use” conditions, which means you’ve overstressed the tendons and muscles in your elbow and forearms, causing painful inflammation.
The primary difference between the two conditions comes down to which muscles and tendons are involved. With tennis elbow, which is also called lateral epicondylitis, the problem stems from overstressing the tendons and muscles that attach to the epicondyle on the outside of your elbow. These muscles and tendons control your ability to extend your wrist and fingers.
With golfer’s elbow, which is medically known as medial epicondylitis, the problem lies in connective tissues that are attached to the epicondyle on the inside of your elbow. These muscles and tendons allow you to draw your hand inward toward your forearm.
The reason why each of these conditions bears names of specific activities is that the two sports in question are known to overstress specific tendons and muscles in your elbows, forearms, and wrists.
For example, when you swing a tennis racket, you’re extending your forearm and wrist a good deal. That said, there are many other activities in which you do the same, from painting to carpentry.
With golf, you tend to curl your wrist inward more, but the condition is also known as suitcase elbow or pitcher’s elbow as both of these activities can stress the muscles and tendons that allow you to bend your palm toward your forearm.
Diagnosing your elbow pain
One of the key indicators as to which condition you may be dealing with is whether you’re experiencing pain on the outside or inside of your elbow and forearm. You can also conduct a few tests to determine which soft tissues are affected, such as these tests for tennis elbow.
The best way to find out which condition you have is to come see us for a full evaluation, as we can not only run tests but also use advanced imaging to get a clearer picture. Once we identify the problem, we can get you on an appropriate treatment plan that will relieve your discomfort and restore full use of your elbow, forearm, and wrist again.
To schedule an evaluation for your elbow pain, please contact our New York City office on the Upper West Side on Columbus Circle.