The Ins and Outs of Elbow Pain

Which would you rather have: tennis elbow or golfer's elbow? What's the difference? Lateral epicondylitis or tennis elbow consists of pain and sometimes swelling on the outside of the elbow. Medial epicondylitis or golfer's elbow occurs on the inside of the elbow. Both conditions are mainly caused by overuse. Both involve pain, weakness, and loss of function.

Researchers in Finland studied two groups of adults with either tennis or golfer's elbow. There were 25 men and women in each group. The researchers compared pain levels, grip strength, arm strength, and joint motion between the two groups.

Tennis elbow was more painful than golfer's elbow when the arm or elbow was under strain. Tennis elbow was also characterized by more widespread pain, meaning a larger area of the elbow and arm hurt.

Golfer's elbow left patients with more hand, wrist, and forearm function. With golfer's elbow, patients were still able to rotate the forearm to turn the palm up or down. In contrast, both forearm rotations were reduced in patients with tennis elbow. However, grip strength was less in patients with golfer's elbow. The grip strength of the healthy arms did not differ between the two groups.

If you have to choose between the two, choose golfer's elbow. In general, golfer's elbow is less painful than tennis elbow and leaves the individual with better muscle function. Understanding the differences between these two elbow conditions can help rehabilitation specialists plan effective treatment.

References: Tuomo T. Pienimäki, MD, PhD, et al. Chronic Medial and Lateral Epicondylitis: A Comparison of Pain, Disability, and Function. In Archives of Physical Medicine and Rehabilitation. March 2002. Vol. 83. No. 3. Pp. 317-321.