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Consultants Corner: Tennis and golfers elbow

Expertise from our official medical partner.

14 September 2018

As the summer draws to a close it is tempting to ‘cram in’ more games of golf or tennis. But, what should you do if you have pain in your elbow? One of BMI Healthcare’s Consultant Orthopaedic surgeons, Mr Sam McElroy, talks about tennis and golfers’ elbow.

Is this the most common injury for tennis and golf?
For tennis, tennis elbow is the best known injury with 40-50% of players thought to have it at some point in their time playing. With regards to golf, tendonitis of the elbow is such a common complaint among golfers that this is how the condition has come to be known as golfer’s elbow. It’s a painful injury which puts as many as 20% of regular golfers out of action temporarily, while they recover.

Are the injuries preventable?
Yes. Players of both sports and all levels should warm up and stretch carefully before and after play. If there is a specific move, shot or position which irritates, it is sensible to train specifically to strengthen these areas. Kinesiology tape can be effectively used to manage early symptoms and prevent worsening.

How can someone prepare to reduce chances of injury?
Making sure you warm up and cool down when playing. Good hydration and nutrition will help. Get some coaching and seek some advice regarding your equipment and form – in many cases injuries such as tennis and golfers elbow are caused by technical errors in your swing or unsuitable equipment. If you’re concerned, ask an instructor or coach to check your grip, swing or movement to make sure you’re not overloading any muscles and get advice on the best racket or club to use.

Strength and conditioning training for all major muscle groups including your core is also a great way to prepare yourself. You can try specific forearm exercises such as lifting light weights or squeezing a tennis ball in your fist to increase the strength of the muscles in your forearm.

If someone was to contract an injury what should they do?
Stop playing! Remember PRICE, which stands for protection, rest, ice, compression and elevation. If you have developed tennis or golfer’s elbow, in both cases the main thing to do is rest. Giving the tendons a break, particularly from the swinging action which inflamed them in the first place, is the most important step on the road to recovery.

What treatments are available?
It may be possible to self-manage the injury using the PRICE technique and using supports. In many cases, all that is required is taking a regular dose of an over-the-counter anti-inflammatory drug such as ibuprofen.

It should take around four to six weeks to get rid of the injuries. After this time all pain and symptoms should have disappeared, allowing you to get back on the court or course.

If four to six weeks pass and you’re still experiencing symptoms, it’s time to seek help. Try to find a hand therapist if your injury is to your hand or wrist or a specialist physiotherapist if shoulder, elbow, back or leg.

What can someone do to aid a speedy and safe recovery?
A specialist sports physiotherapist can help to boost recovery and help the tendons to heal faster.

Occasionally, a more serious injury will need further investigations to rule out potential underlying causes. Sometimes you might be recommended for specialist pain-relieving injections.

Many injuries are irritations to the tendons. It is often sensible to wear a brace/ tape which restricts movement of one of the joints (such as the wrist) to help healing. Be aware that these things may also alter the technique which can also cause problems.

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