Golfer’s elbow, or “medial epicondylitis,” is a very common injury. Repetitive motions, such as swinging a golf club, can put your muscles and tendons under stress. Eventually the tendons attaching the forearm muscles to the bone on the inside of the elbow become inflamed, resulting in pain and tenderness-usually on the inner part of the elbow, but the symptoms are also sometimes felt in the forearm and/or wrist. Here are some tips and exercises to help protect your elbow:
Warming up prior to play:
Warm up and stretch your forearms.
- Stand with one arm directly in front of you with your elbow straight and palm upward
- Bend your wrist so that your fingers point down
- Apply a stretch to your palm with your other hand-you should feel a slight pull but not pain
- Hold the stretch for about 15 seconds
- Repeat with your palm facing down and perform on both sides
Stretch your forearms and wrists.
- Place your palms together with your fingers straight and pointed upward
- Maintaining this position, separate your elbows until you feel a gentle stretch. If your fingers start to bend, you are pushing too hard.
- Don’t let your shoulders shrug or your palms separate
- Hold for 15 seconds
Stretch the back of your shoulder, reducing the stress placed down your arm that may then lead to elbow symptoms.
- Stand up tall with one arm straight across your body
- Gently pull it across to feel a stretch in the back of your shoulder
- Keep your back straight and your shoulder blades down and back
- Hold for 15 seconds and repeat on other side
Avoid “hitting from the top”
While the most common cause of golfer’s elbow is overuse, it can also result from poor swing mechanics. If your swing begins with your arms rather than your hips, it can result in “throwing” the club down towards the ball, sometimes known as “hitting from the top.” Doing so can increase stress on the muscles of your inner forearm due to the torque in your elbow. To avoid this, try to transfer your weight smoothly from your back foot to your front foot as you swing. This will keep your body appropriately aligned as the club makes contact with the ball and reduce the forces placed on your elbow.
Don’t “flick” your wrist
Often times, in an attempt to get more power and distance, there is a conscious attempt to hinge the wrist and then quickly unhinge it through impact. In other words, players often flick their wrist as they make contact with the ball. Not only does this not help your swing, it places undue torque and stress up through the elbow. This can create an overuse of the muscle and tendons found in the forearm which can lead to the start of an inflammatory process. What actually delivers the speed at impact with the ball is acceleration by a quick rolling of the forearms.
Grip size can have an impact on your elbow mechanics. If you’re having elbow pain, try to increase the width of your grips or change your grip position. Oversized, soft grips can help to reduce compressive forces and pressure when holding a club. If you feel that you are really trying to hold your club tightly in your hands, you may be gripping too hard. Your club should lay in your fingers.
Addressing any weaknesses in your upper body strength and flexibility will help to reduce the risk of future elbow injuries. Strengthening exercises can be done especially for the posterior aspect of your shoulders. Arm mechanics begin with your shoulder blade and this can reduce stress placed on your elbow. You may want to look for a golf performance program in your area such as the one provided at the HSS Tisch Sports Performance Center. These programs are often offered by rehabilitation centers or fitness centers. An individualized plan can be put together for you to improve your game while preventing injuries.
Gregory Reinhardt is a physical therapist with the Hospital for Special Surgery Rehabilitation Department. He holds a Doctorate degree in physical therapy and is certified with the United States Golf Teachers Federation-Level II. Greg was an integral part of the team that developed the HSS Protect Your Game golf portal and appears in many of the videos.