Tennis vs. golfer’s elbow and how physiotherapy can help

Understanding the difference between these common injuries

Have you been experiencing regular pain in your forearm, elbow and wrist area and can’t quite pinpoint why or what it is? The answer could be Tennis or Golfer’s elbow.

Both Tennis Elbow and Golfer’s Elbow are forms of epicondylitis, an inflammation of tendons that attach to the elbow. And despite their names, athletes aren’t the only ones susceptible to these injuries. In fact, these two injuries are both some of the most common types of elbow injuries.

This article will explore the details of Tennis and Golfer’s elbow, how they occur, who they tend to happen to most, how to treat them and how to prevent them from worsening.

What is tennis elbow?

First things first, you don’t need to play tennis to get Tennis elbow. Also known by the medical term, lateral epicondylitis, this injury affects the outside of the elbow. Tennis Elbow happens when completing an activity that requires repetitive wrist extension. It affects the tendons in the forearm.

Who can get tennis elbow?

Anyone can get Tennis Elbow, but people between 30 and 50 years old who work in these professions are especially susceptible:

  • Painters
  • Carpenters
  • Plumbers
  • Autoworkers
  • Cooks

Seasonal chores like raking and gardening can also cause Tennis Elbow.


Tennis Elbow is characterized by:

  • Pain when you try to grip something or lift an object
  • Discomfort when opening a door
  • Soreness when shaking someone’s hand
  • Difficulty raising your hand or straighten your wrist
  • Tenderness in the bony knob on the outside of your elbow

What is golfer’s elbow?

Golfer’s Elbow, or medial epicondylitis, affects the inside of the elbow. Opposite to Tennis Elbow, Golfer’s Elbow happens because of repetitive wrist flexion. Pain from Golfer’s Elbow can spread to the forearm and wrist.

Who can get golfer’s elbow?

Anyone at any age can get Golfer’s Elbow, but people who work in these professions are especially susceptible:

  • Painters
  • Construction Worker
  • Carpenters
  • Plumbers
  • Assembling-Line Workers
  • Cooks

Other activities that may cause Golfer’s Elbow include playing racquet sports, baseball or softball or weightlifting.


Golfer’s elbow is characterized by:

  • Pain and tenderness usually felt on the inner side of your elbow. The pain will typically worsen with certain movements.
  • Stiffness in your elbow.
  • Weakness in your hands and wrists.
  • Numbness or tingling in one or more fingers, usually the ring and pinky finger.
  • How to Prevent Tennis and Golfer’s Elbow

While Tennis and Golfer’s Elbow are different, following these steps can help to prevent both from happening in the first place, or from getting worse if you’ve already suffered an injury.

Forearm exercises

You should aim to perform simple wrist flexion and extension exercises daily. These exercises will help to strengthen the muscles in your forearm. Because those muscles attach at your elbow, they need to stay strong. One example of a simple strengthening exercise is squeezing a tennis ball throughout the day for 15 minutes at a time.

Take breaks

Listen to your body. If your arm becomes sore, that can be a sign that your body needs a break. Playing sports that require a lot of arm movements is even more likely to result in injury, so be sure to take plenty of breaks between matches. Similarly, if your job requires a lot of elbow and forearm movement, then its best to take as many breaks as possible during your day.

Use proper form

Regardless of the exercise, make sure you are using proper form so as to minimize the stress on your arms and body. For example, when lifting a heavy object, always keep your palms facing your body with your arms bent. This takes the stress off the small forearm muscles and tendons and places it on the larger muscles such as your biceps, back and chest.

Warm-up and stretch

Don’t forget to warm up before you engage in any physical activity. Walk or jog for a few minutes to warm up your muscles. If you’re playing a game, then do gentle stretches before you start playing. This allows your muscles to be more flexible. Stretching also improves your range of motion, which helps to decrease the risk of injury.

Treatment for both injuries

While both injuries are different, treatment is pretty similar.


First things first, try not to overuse your elbow. Allow it enough time to heal and recuperate. While you’re resting, be sure to ice. Applying ice to the area can help to reduce the inflammation.

Anti-inflammatory medication

Painkillers such as ibuprofen may help to ease the pain of Tennis and Golfer’s Elbow. Take them regularly and at the recommended dose to help you control the pain. You can also rub anti-inflammatory cream, like Icy Hot, directly onto the affected area.

Elbow bracing

Elbow braces are small and comfortable and effective. Most elbow braces are made of soft neoprene and nylon and use a gel pad to offer a point of counter-pressure on the elbow. A Velcro strap is used to securely tighten the brace to your arm.

Diet consisting of anti-inflammatory foods

Since Tennis and Golfer’s Elbow are both the result of inflammation to muscles or tendons, an anti-inflammatory diet could help to provide some relief. There are many foods that have been proven successful in decrease inflammation in the body. Leafy greens like spinach and kale, nuts like almonds and walnuts, fatty fish like salmon and tuna and fruits like strawberries and oranges can all help to reduce inflammation in the body.

How physiotherapy helps treat and prevent both conditions

If pain persists in your elbow, forearm or wrist, you may benefit from treatment with a physiotherapist. Physiotherapy can help with pain management, increase range of motion and heal sports injuries. Your physiotherapist can take you through a personalized assessment to properly identify your injuries and create a plan for recovery. Physical therapy can be a good tool to help improve blood flow to the tendons.

Read more: Top 10 Reasons to See a Physiotherapist

The takeaway

It can be difficult to tell the difference between Tennis Elbow and Golfer’s Elbow. But regardless of the diagnoses, there are some preventative measures you can take. It will take a while for the pain to improve, however, physiotherapy is a holistic option that can help you to better cope with your injury.

Michael McCreight, Registered Physiotherapist

Mike is an experienced and talented physiotherapist who holds a BSc in human kinetics and an MSc in physiotherapy. He doesn't believe in a “one-size-fits-all” approach and is committed to providing client-centred care, tailoring each treatment plan to each patient’s unique needs and personal goals.

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