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Tennis vs. Golfer's Elbow: What's the Difference?

Tennis vs. Golfer's Elbow: What's the Difference?

While both conditions involve the elbow, tennis elbow and golfer’s elbow are distinct conditions caused by different body motions. The experts at Nevada Orthopedic and Spine Center in Henderson and Las Vegas, Nevada, have experience diagnosing and treating both ailments. 

The primary difference between tennis and golfer’s elbow is the location of pain experienced and the affected tendons. Tennis elbow affects the outside of the elbow, while golfer’s elbow impacts the inside.

Tennis elbow 

Despite its name, you don't have to be a tennis player to develop tennis elbow. Tennis elbow is a type of tendonitis that affects the outer part of the elbow, causing pain triggered when you grip objects or flex the wrist backward. 

The primary cause of tennis elbow is overuse or strain of the tendons that attach to the lateral epicondyle, which is the bony bump outside your elbow. These tendons can develop tiny tears, leading to inflammation and pain.

Any repetitive activity like typing, painting, or lifting weights involving the wrist and forearm can lead to tennis elbow if done with improper form or inadequate rest.

Golfer's elbow

Golfer's elbow affects the inner portion of the elbow — specifically, the tendons that attach to the medial epicondyle (the bony bump on the inside). The symptoms are similar to tennis elbow, but you experience them on the opposite side of the elbow joint.

The main cause of golfer’s elbow is overuse, leading to tiny tears in the tendons that, in turn, cause inflammation and pain.

You can get golfer’s elbow without ever picking up a golf club. Any activity that requires repetitive flexing, gripping, or rotating the wrist and forearm, like shoveling, gardening, or certain weightlifting exercises, can cause golfer’s elbow.

Diagnosing tennis and golfer’s elbow

When you visit our office with elbow pain, our team reviews your medical history and symptoms. We may take X-rays of the affected area to rule out fractures or other bone problems. In some cases, we may also request an MRI.

How we treat tennis and golfer’s elbow

Since both tennis and golfer’s elbow stem from repetitive strain and overuse, the prevention and treatment strategies are similar. This includes resting the affected area, applying cold compresses, and engaging in strengthening exercises. 

Most patients find nonsurgical treatments resolve tennis and golfer’s elbow, but if at-home remedies don’t relieve the pain, call the office or schedule an appointment online. Our team may recommend physical therapy or ultrasonic tenotomy (the TENEX procedure) to deliver rapid vibrations directly to the affected tendon. It is rare to need surgery for tennis or golfer’s elbow, but it’s sometimes necessary to remove a severely damaged tendon.

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