Golfer's elbow, or medial epicondylitis, is similar to tennis elbow except that it occurs on the inside, rather than the outside, of the elbow. Golfer’s elbow involves pain and inflammation on the inner side of the elbow, where the tendons of the forearm muscles attach to the bony bump on the inside of the elbow. Symptoms include pain and tenderness on the inner side of the elbow (which may spread into the forearm and wrist), stiffness in the elbow, weakness in the hands and wrists, and numbness or tingling in one or more fingers (usually the ring and little fingers). The pain may get worse when swinging a club or racket, squeezing or pitching a ball, shaking hands, turning a doorknob, flexing the wrist towards the forearm, or picking something up with the palm facing down.
Golfer's elbow is caused by damage to the muscles and tendons that control the wrist and fingers. The damage is typically caused by excess or repetitive stress, particularly forceful wrist and finger motions, but it can also be caused by a sudden force or blow to the elbow or wrist. Golfer's elbow is not limited to golfers- many activities can lead to golfer’s elbow including racket sports, throwing sports, weight training, and any activity that uses repetitive wrist, hand or arm movement such as typing, painting, or hammering.
Rest is the best medicine for golfer’s elbow. But golfer’s elbow that has not been allowed to heal properly or using the arm too strenuously before it has properly healed can lead to chronic elbow pain, a limited range or motion, or a lasting, fixed bend in the elbow. Analyzing what motions are causing the problem can help you to change your habits to reduce stress on the elbow. Exercises to stretch and strengthen the muscles of the forearm can also help recovery and prevent re-injury.
Acupuncture can be a great option for dealing with golfer’s elbow and promoting proper healing. With golfer’s elbow, and all types of musculo-skeletal injuries, pain is caused by stagnation of qi-energy and blood. Acupuncture treatment focuses on removing the blockage and helping the energy and blood to flow again in order to remove pain and resolve the symptoms of an injury such as golfer’s elbow.
In addition, we look at what underlying factors have influenced the body’s health and weakened the elbow or made it vulnerable to injury. In Chinese medicine (TCM), almost every musculo-skeletal disorder also has some relevant underlying imbalance or contributing lifestyle factor, whether it be our occupation, the exercise or sports we choose, our nutrition and diet, or our genes. Understanding a person’s general health gives an acupuncturist insight into the internal imbalances that can further contribute to an injury. By also treating these underlying factors, we are actually strengthening the injured area and improving health, with the goal of preventing future reoccurrence.
In this way, acupuncture not only relieves symptoms of golfer’s elbow, but goes further to address the heart of the problem and promote proper healing, unlike other treatments which may serve only to relieve symptoms. Indeed, acupuncture can help you get back on the course and into the swing of things.
James Kaufman is a Registered Acupuncturist at Okanagan Acupuncture Centre, 1625 Ellis St, downtown Kelowna, BC.