Tennis vs Golfer's Elbow: What are they?

March 1, 2023

You may have heard the term “Tennis Elbow”, or “Golfer’s Elbow” thrown around when someone has an injury to their elbow or is complaining of pain to the inside or outside part of the elbow. You can get these without ever playing tennis or golf.  

Tennis elbow is clinically known as lateral epicondylitis. The lateral epicondyle is a bump, or prominence, on the outside portion of your elbow bone and is where a common extensor tendon attaches. This tendon then leads to the muscles that extend your wrist and fingers. When these tendons become irritated or overloaded, inflammation of the tendons can occur which leads to pain in the lateral elbow and the forearm. This usually occurs with overuse of the forearm and wrist, like repeatedly hitting a tennis ball with a tennis racket in the backhand position, but it can happen with any activity that involves repeated wrist extension or grasping. Some examples are other racquet sports, throwing sports, using hand tools, typing, or painting.

On the other side of your elbow, there is a bony prominence called the medial epicondyle. This is where the tendons that flex your wrist, or bend your wrist down towards your palm, attach. When these tendons are irritated and causing pain, that is known as Golfer’s Elbow, or medial epicondylitis. This often occurs to golfers and pitchers, but can happen with repeated wrist flexion, pronation, and grasping.  

Tennis elbow is more common than golfer’s elbow, but both are due to overuse and repetitive motions, or poor form during sports of certain activities. It is even possible to have both tennis and golfer’s elbow at the same time. Both can cause pain along the side of the forearm involved, numbness and tingling into the hand and fingers, tenderness to touch and swelling at the elbow, and weakness in the hand and forearm muscles that are involved.  

Treatment is similar for both, and it is important to start treatment early before the issue becomes chronic. Physical therapy can help by assisting in pain management, manual therapy to decrease pain and help regain motion, improve your range of motion of the elbow and wrist, strengthen the involved muscles, and retrain your muscles to prevent reinjury.  


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