Golfer’s Elbow

Medically Reviewed by Tyler Wheeler, MD on February 26, 2024
3 min read

Golfer’s elbow is a form of tendonitis that causes pain in the tendons that connect the forearm to the elbow. The pain centers on the bony bump on the inside of your elbow and may radiate into the forearm. It usually gets better with rest. The medical term is medial epicondylitis.

Golfer’s elbow isn’t as well-known as tennis elbow. While both are forms of elbow tendinitis, tennis elbow stems from damage to tendons on the outside of the elbow, while golfer's elbow is caused by tendons on the inside. Golfer’s elbow is less common.

With golfer’s elbow, the pain you have can happen suddenly or with time. If you have golfer’s elbow, you might have:

  • Stiffness in your elbow
  • Tenderness and pain, usually on the inner side of your elbow or the inner side of your forearm, but you could have pain with certain movements, like making a fist or swinging a golf club
  • Tingling or numbness in your fingers (usually the ring and little fingers)
  • Weakness in your hands and wrists

Golfer’s elbow is usually caused by overusing the muscles in your forearm, which lets you grip, rotate your arm, and flex your wrist. Repetitive flexing, gripping, or swinging can cause pulls or tiny tears in the tendons.

Despite the name, this condition doesn’t just affect golfers. Any hand, wrist, or forearm motions that you do often can lead to golfer’s elbow. Things that can lead to golfer’s elbow besides golfing include:

  • Sports that use a racket, like tennis. Not using the right techniques when playing or using them incorrectly can hurt your tendon. If you’re using a racket that’s too light or too heavy, that can also cause golfer’s elbow.
  • Sports that rely on lots of throwing movements, like archery, baseball, bowling, football, javelin throwing, and softball. Pitching a ball incorrectly for example, can lead to golfer’s elbow, too. In fact, it's sometimes called pitcher’s elbow.
  • Repetitive movements. If you’re a carpenter, painter, plumber, or you work in construction, you can get golfer’s elbow. Lots of forceful, repeating motions can cause it.
  • Weight training. If you don’t use the right technique for lifting weights, you can overwork your elbow’s tendons and muscles.

People may also get it from using tools like screwdrivers and hammers, raking, or painting.

Most of the time, golfer’s elbow will go away without any special treatment. But you should manage it like any other overuse injury:

  • Apply ice to your elbow for 15 to 20 minutes three or four times per day.
  • Rest the injured elbow from aggravating activities
  • For pain, your doctor may recommend an oral NSAID (nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drug) like aspirin, ibuprofen, or naproxen to reduce pain and swelling. A topical medication may help, as well.
  • You may also get an injection of a corticosteroid or painkiller (like lidocaine) in the elbow. This may relieve pain and swelling in the short term.

If you're still having pain after 6 to 12 months, you may need surgery. These procedures can remove damaged parts of a tendon, promote healing, and reduce pain. Full recovery may take 3 to 6 months.

The key to preventing golfer's elbow is to avoid overuse. If you feel any pain in your elbow during an activity, stop before it gets worse.

Stretching and strengthening exercises can help make golfer’s elbow go away faster. They can also help keep it from coming back.

  • Eccentric exercises strengthen the muscle while it’s relaxed, not tight.
  • Stretching helps with mobility.

Talk to your doctor or physical therapist to come up with an exercise plan that’s right for you.