Many people ask why they develop tennis or golfers elbow when they’ve never played either sport. Although they are relatively common conditions, little is really known about why and how they develop and how to treat them effectively.
However what is know is that less than 5% of people who develop either condition (or unluckily both) have played the sports. This is because these are repetitive strain injuries (RSIs) caused by overuse of the area as opposed to a sports specific injury. Tennis or golfers elbow is caused by repetitive use of the hands and forearms in a wide range of everyday activities including computer use, heavy lifting, gardening, housework and hobbies from DIY to knitting. People often develop either condition in only one elbow which is their dominant arm and therefore used much more.
The medical terminology for the conditions is lateral epicondylitis (tennis elbow) and medial epicondylitis (golfers elbow). These refer to where the pain is felt at the outside and inside of the elbow where the muscles of the forearms attach via their tendons, hence the term ‘tendonitis’ which is often used to describe the conditions.
The most common symptom of either tennis or golfers elbow is pain, particularly if the attachment point at the elbow is touched. The pain can radiate up into the upper arm and down into the forearm and fingers. Often people feel weakness in their hand and forearm such as a loss of grip strength when picking up or twisting things (for example, opening a door), or carrying anything heavy. Often the pain can persist even when not doing anything.
Medical treatment of either condition is usually prescribed rest from activities, stretches, strengthening exercises, painkillers and possibly using a support on the forearm to create a “false” attachment point which rests the actual tendon attachment at the elbow. However many people find that the condition can return repeatedly, especially when they restart the pain causing activity.
A myofascial perspective on tennis & golfers elbow
When looked at from a myofascial perspective, tennis and golfers elbow are as much conditions of the neck and shoulder as the elbow, forearm or hand for the following reasons:
- Repeated use of the hands and fingers means overworking the muscles in your forearms. These are small muscles, tightly packed in together, each with their own wrapping of fascia that usually allows free gliding of the muscles over each other. As the muscles become tired and irritated this causes changes in the fascia turning it from free gliding tissue to more viscous and sticky, eventually sticking the muscles together so they can no longer work effectively. It is this stuckness that increases the tension on the tendon attachments at the elbow.
- In order to do any activity that involves fine movement of the hands and fingers, you need to brace your arms to keep them still. This bracing happens not only in the forearms but importantly also at the shoulders and neck.
- Bracing your neck and shoulders for prolonged periods causes further tension in the fascia of this area which can also progressively get stuck into a position. This creates fascial restrictions which can compress the arm nerves in their journey from where they exit the spinal cord in the neck, across the chest, armpit and into the arm. Compression at any point can cause the symptoms typically associated with tennis and golfers elbow.
Effective myofascial treatment of tennis and golfers elbow means releasing restrictions in the neck and shoulders as well as the forearms. Simple myofascial stretches and exercises can be used as an effective self-help way of moving back into easier pain-free movement.
Watch our tennis & golfers elbow video for some useful exercises:
Or subscribe to our RSI online course which is full of information, exercises and other effective myofascial self-help activities.