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“Golfer’s Elbow” in Tennis Players

Tennis player

People talk about tennis elbow all the time. It has become part of the vernacular even with people who have never touched a racket, who use the term to describe pain on the lateral side of the elbow. Less talked about, but no less debilitating to those affected by it, is “golfer’s elbow” or medial epicondylitis.  And, despite its name, this is a condition that can also affect tennis players.

Medial epicondylitis refers to inflammation of the tendons that attach to the medial epicondyle of the humerus or arm bone. These tendons are attached to the muscles responsible for flexing your wrist and pronating your forearm (rotating your forearm palm down). This inflammation commonly occurs in golfers, but it can affect anyone who performs the motions described above repetitively. Tennis players are particularly susceptible on forehands and serves. Baseball pitchers may report similar symptoms as well.

The majority of cases are due to chronic overuse, but acute epicondylitis can occur. Because tennis requires repetitive and strenuous forearm and wrist movements, tennis players are at risk of developing the condition.

Tennis players with medial epicondylitis will complain of pain along the medial aspect of their elbow (the side of your elbow closest to your body when your palm is facing up). Pain can sometimes radiate down the forearm. Typically forehands, serves and overheads are the most painful strokes.

Usually the symptoms will subside with avoidance of the inciting activity. If they persist, you should see an orthopedic surgeon to make sure something else isn’t causing the pain. Typically, they will prescribe anti-inflammatory medications, ice, and stretching/strengthening exercises. Most cases will respond to the above treatments within about 4 to 6 weeks. It is extremely important, however, to avoid returning to tennis before the symptoms have resolved, as this can be a set up for further injury.

More chronic cases and cases that are not responding to the above-mentioned treatment modalities may benefit from an injection of cortisone or platelet rich plasma (PRP) into the area. Cortisone is a steroid that helps reduce inflammation. Though it may help the symptoms, a concern with cortisone use is that it can potentially weaken muscle and tendon tissue. PRP, which involves isolating of the growth factors from one’s own blood and injecting into the site of maximal tenderness, has been used with some success and it is less damaging to the tendon than cortisone. Most cases of epicondylitis resolve with some combination of the conservative options described above; but in about 10% of cases, patients will require surgery for the condition. Surgery involves removing the degenerated area of tendon and, if a tear is present, repairing it.

Clearly, the best treatment is prevention. Warm up and stretch appropriately before playing and listen to your body. You don’t want to make a relatively minor condition into something more severe by playing through pain. Always consult a physician before starting an exercise regimen and for treatment for your elbow pain.

Updated on February 24, 2020


Dr. David Dines is an orthopedic surgeon at Hospital for Special Surgery. He serves as the medical director of the Association of Tennis Professionals (ATP Tour), the team physician for the US Davis Cup tennis team and an orthopedic consultant for the US Open Tennis Tournament.





Dr. Joshua Dines

Dr. Joshua Dines is an orthopedic surgeon and member of the Sports Medicine and Shoulder Service at Hospital for Special Surgery. He serves as a team physician for the US Davis Cup tennis team.

Topics: Performance
The information provided in this blog by HSS and our affiliated physicians is for general informational and educational purposes, and should not be considered medical advice for any individual problem you may have. This information is not a substitute for the professional judgment of a qualified health care provider who is familiar with the unique facts about your condition and medical history. You should always consult your health care provider prior to starting any new treatment, or terminating or changing any ongoing treatment. Every post on this blog is the opinion of the author and may not reflect the official position of HSS. Please contact us if we can be helpful in answering any questions or to arrange for a visit or consult.