“Golfer’s Elbow” in Tennis Players

by Dr. David Dines and Dr. Joshua Dines
Tennis player

People talk about tennis elbow all the time. It has become part of the vernacular with people who have never touched a racket, who use the term to describe pain on the lateral side of the elbow. Less talked about, but no less debilitating to those affected by it, is “golfer’s elbow” or medial epicondylitis.  And, despite its name, this is a condition that can also affect tennis players.

Medial epicondylitis refers to inflammation of the tendons that attach to the medial epicondyle of the humerus or arm bone. These tendons are attached to the muscles responsible for flexing your wrist and pronating your forearm (rotating your forearm palm down). This inflammation commonly occurs in golfers, but it can affect anyone who performs the motions described above repetitively. Tennis players are particularly susceptible on forehands and serves.

The majority of cases are due to chronic overuse, but acute epicondylitis can occur. Because tennis requires repetitive and strenuous forearm and wrist movements, tennis players are at risk of developing the condition.

Tennis players with medial epicondylitis will complain of pain along the medial aspect of their elbow (the side of your elbow closest to your body when your palm is facing up). Pain can sometimes radiate down the forearm. Again, typically forehands, serves and overheads are the most painful strokes.

Usually the symptoms will subside with avoidance of the inciting activity. If they persist, you should see an orthopedic surgeon to make sure something else isn’t causing the pain. Typically, they will prescribe anti-inflammatory medications, ice, and stretching/strengthening exercises. Most cases will respond to the above treatments within about 4 to 6 weeks. It is extremely important, however, to avoid returning to tennis before the symptoms have resolved, as this can be a set up for further injury.

More chronic cases and cases that are recalcitrant to the above-mentioned treatment modalities may benefit from an injection of cortisone into the area. Cortisone is a steroid that helps reduce inflammation. Though it may help the symptoms, it shouldn’t be done as a first-line treatment, as it can actually weaken muscle and tendon tissue. More recently, platelet-rich plasma, which involves isolating of the growth factors from one’s own blood and injecting into the site of maximal tenderness, has been used with some success and it is less damaging to the tendon than cortisone. In about 10% of cases, patients will require surgery for the condition. Surgery involves removing the inflamed area of tendon and, if a tear is present, repairing it.

Dr. David Dines, Orthopedic Surgeon

Dr. David Dines, Orthopedic Surgeon

Clearly, the best treatment is prevention. Warm up and stretch appropriately before playing and listen to your body. You don’t want to make a relatively minor condition into something more severe by playing through pain. Always consult a physician before starting an exercise regimen and for treatment for your elbow pain.

Dr. David Dines is an orthopedic surgeon at Hospital for Special Surgery. He serves as the medical director of the Association of Tennis Professionals (ATP Tour), the team physician for the US Davis Cup tennis team and an orthopedic consultant for the US Open Tennis Tournament.

Dr. Joshua Dines, Orthopedic Surgeon

Dr. Joshua Dines, Orthopedic Surgeon

Dr. Joshua Dines is an orthopedic surgeon and member of the Sports Medicine and Shoulder Service at Hospital for Special Surgery. He serves as a team physician for the US Davis Cup tennis team.

Topics: Featured, Orthopedics, Rehabilitation and Fitness, U.S. Open
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The information provided in this blog by HSS and our affiliated physicians is for general informational and educational purposes, and should not be considered medical advice for any individual problem you may have. This information is not a substitute for the professional judgment of a qualified health care provider who is familiar with the unique facts about your condition and medical history. You should always consult your health care provider prior to starting any new treatment, or terminating or changing any ongoing treatment. Every post on this blog is the opinion of the author and may not reflect the official position of HSS. Please contact us if we can be helpful in answering any questions or to arrange for a visit or consult.

Comments

Sharon Snyder Coloson says:

I am an avid tennis player suffering from tennis elbow since 2006. After 3 cortisone injections this past year I had an MRI done. I have an extensive partial tear of the common extensor tendon @ 70 % of the cross sectional area is disrupted. Am I a candidate for a minimally invasive procedure as I am hoping for a short recovery time. Traveling to NY to have this procedure done is not a problem. I am a 68 y/o female in excellent health. Looking forward to your response, Thank you

HSS on the Move says:

Dear Ms. Snyder, Thanks for reaching out. We’re sorry to hear you’re in pain. Orthopedic surgeon Dr. Joshua Dines says, “Though conservative treatment is often successful for tennis elbow, someone who has had symptoms for more than six years and three cortisone shots is likely a candidate for surgery. Surgery can be done arthroscopically or through a small incision. Both approaches provide excellent outcomes. Determining which is appropriate for a given patient depends on several factors that your doctor can review with you.” To make an appointment with an HSS physician, please contact our Physician Referral Service at 877-606-1555 or https://www.hss.edu/secure/prs-appointment-request.asp. For information on and assistance in traveling to HSS from out of the New York City area, contact our Coast to Coast Program: http://www.hss.edu/coast-to-coast.asp.

Edith says:

My son is a tennis player and he has been suffering from a golf elbow almost a year. He can play tennis without pain but he cannot play overheads and he cannot serve. He feels pain in the elbow. My son is 16 years of age and he is growing fast. He suffers a lot as he plays tennis on a high level and participates in the tournaments. We have contacted many chiropractors and physios and he has been also treated with a Shock Wave Therapy. It was better but today when he played a match the pain got even worse than ever. We are desperate and do not know how to help him. We will be grateful for your response.

HSS on the Move says:

Hi Edith, we’re sorry to hear your son is in pain. If you’d like to make an appointment with an HSS physician, please contact the Physician Referral Service at +1.877.606.1555 or https://www.hss.edu/secure/prs-appointment-request.asp?pageid=6463.

Golf Blog says:

Fascinating stuff. I used to play a lot more golf than I do lately. Wish I had as much spare time as I did when I was young. – John

Kayihan Sahinoglu says:

My son is a tennis player and he has been suffering from a golfer’s elbow since 2 weeks. He is 10 years old. We were recommended to use anti-inflammatory medications and ice. When should we begin stretching/strengthening exercises?
We are living in Istanbul, Turkey.
Thank you for your response. Dr. Kayihan Sahinoglu

HSS on the Move says:

Hi Kayihan, thank you for reaching out. It is best to consult with your son’s treating physician for a better diagnosis. If you wish to receive care at HSS, please contact our Physician Referral Service at 877-606-1555 for further assistance.

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