Tennis elbow and golf elbow—an inflammation of the outer and inner elbow tendons caused by overusing the forearm muscle— are common spring sports injuries, generally caused by overdoing swinging motions and by excessive throwing motions.
Though typically associated with tennis and golf athletes, both elbow issues also affect baseball and softball batters (and especially pitchers and catchers who frequently throw the ball), as well as lacrosse players.
Fall and winter sport athletes can also experience elbow problems. So can year-round athletes such as gymnasts and rowers. Elbow inflammation can also occur in the weight room from overtraining by performing too many arm exercises such as Bicep Curls, Tricep Extensions and Dips, and pushing and pulling movements such as Push-Ups, Bench and Overhead Presses, Barbell Rows and Pull-Ups.
This article provides some tips to prevent and heal an achy tennis or golf elbow.
Perform Wrist and Forearm Strengthening Exercises
Build up your forearm muscles in the offseason and maintain that strength during the season. Do forearm exercises twice a week to make the structures in your forearm and elbow more resilient. As a byproduct, this might actually improve your strength in other exercises. Here are my favorite forearm exercises:
- Tennis Ball Squeezes
- Dumbbell or Barbell Wrist Curls
- Dumbbell or Barbell Wrist Extensions
- Wrist Rollers
- Dead-Arm Hangs
- Deadlifts and Rows
There’s a fine line between practicing too many or too few sports skills during the offseason and season—and also doing excessive arm exercises in the gym. At the first sign of outer or inner elbow discomfort, stop and rest. Working through the soreness not only can worsen pain, but eventually cause a chronic issue—disrupting sports and exercise activities for an extended period.
Consult Your School or Team Athletic Trainer/Physician
When elbow soreness develops, seek the school or team athletic trainer or physician for an accurate diagnosis—determining whether it’s indeed tennis elbow or golf elbow—and then taking curative steps to relieve and subsequently eliminate the pain so you can avoid missing practices, games, and/or workouts.
If you experience elbow pain or discomfort, here are some of the best and most commonly used methods for relieving the issue:
- Ice massage. Gently massage around the elbow with an ice cube in a towel, contrasted with moist heat applications by dipping a towel in warm water containing Epsom salts.
- Gently massage the forearm muscles around the elbow joint with your fingertips and thumb. Do not massage the elbow itself or upon areas if swelling exists.
- Do pronated or supinated forearm stretches and wrist flexion and extension stretches.
- Perform strengthening exercises, initially without external resistance, such as making a fist and alternately opening the hand and squeezing several times, then alternately flexing and extending the wrist for several reps. As the pain subsides, perform Wrist Curls and Extensions with a light dumbbell, or do Tennis Ball Squeezes, or roll and unroll a large towel. Exercises that were done to prevent elbow injuries in the first place may also be performed at the latter end of a rehab program to re-strengthen the muscles surrounding the elbow and accelerate the healing process.