Tennis Elbow vs. Golfer’s Elbow: What’s the Difference?

Reviewed by Dr. Hamad
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Tennis Elbow vs. Golfer’s elbow
Tennis Elbow vs. Golfer's Elbow

In navigating the world of arm-related discomfort, it’s crucial to distinguish between two prevalent conditions: Tennis Elbow vs. Golfer’s Elbow. Both represent forms of tendinitis, sparking pain in the elbow and arm due to repetitive strain. Interestingly, while Tennis Elbow inflicts the lateral epicondyle (the outer part of the elbow), Golfer’s Elbow targets the medial epicondyle (inner elbow). This distinction is vital for anyone engaging in sports or activities that involve rigorous arm movements.

It’s worth noting that pickleball enthusiasts might find the topic of Tennis Elbow particularly relevant. The sport’s dynamic nature can inadvertently lead to similar overuse of the forearm muscles as in tennis, making it a point of interest for players. However, this article focuses primarily on dissecting the differences between Tennis Elbow and Golfer’s Elbow. Delving into these conditions, we’ll explore their causes, symptoms, and treatment options, offering essential insights for anyone facing these challenges.

Key Takeaways

  • Tennis Elbow and Golfer’s Elbow are caused by overuse of different forearm muscles.
  • Initial treatment includes rest, ice, and pain management, with potential for physical therapy.
  • Proper management and knowing when to seek medical advice are key for recovery.

Understanding Tennis Elbow

tennis elbow vs. golfer's elbow

Tennis elbow, medically known as lateral epicondylitis, arises from repetitive overuse of the forearm muscle, often through activities that require forceful arm and wrist movements. I’ll guide you through the primary causes, typical symptoms, and standard methods for diagnosing this condition.

Causes of Tennis Elbow

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Tennis elbow typically develops from activities that put a repeated strain on the forearm muscles and tendons, especially those that extend or lift the wrist and hand. While it’s named after tennis, numerous other activities can also contribute, such as painting, using tools, or playing different racquet sports.

  • Repetitive Motions: Swinging a pickleball paddle, especially with improper technique, often leads to this overuse injury.
  • Occupational Risk: Jobs that involve manual labor or repetitive arm movements increase the likelihood of developing tennis elbow.

Symptoms of Tennis Elbow

The symptoms center around pain and tenderness:

  • Pain Location: The pain from tennis elbow is typically located on the outside of the elbow and can radiate down the forearm.
  • Aggravating Activities: Gripping or lifting objects may worsen the pain, making everyday tasks challenging.

Symptoms to watch out for include:

  • Persistent pain on the outside of the elbow
  • Increased pain with forearm activity
  • Weak grip strength

Diagnosis of Tennis Elbow

Diagnosis usually involves a physical examination where I would check for pain in the lateral elbow area when the forearm muscles are in use. In certain cases, imaging tests such as MRI or X-rays may be required to rule out other conditions, but this is not a common first step.

  • Physical Exam: Evaluating pain response during muscle contraction or extension.
  • Imaging Tests: Employed if the diagnosis is uncertain or to exclude other pathologies.

A thorough diagnosis is essential for the correct treatment plan and a swift recovery.

Understanding Golfer’s Elbow

Golfer’s elbow, or medial epicondylitis, is a condition that affects the tendons on the inside of the elbow. Its relation to golf comes from the commonality of the injury among players, although it can occur from a variety of activities.

Causes of Golfer’s Elbow

The root cause of golfer’s elbow is the overuse or strain of the forearm muscles that attach to the medial epicondyle on the inside of the elbow. This is where the tendons anchor the muscles to the bone. Repetitive wrist and finger motions can lead to small tears in the tendons, which I understand to be the primary issue.

  • Repetitive activities: Actions like swinging a golf club can stress the tendon attachment.
  • Improper lifting: Heavy weights or incorrect form can overload the tendons.
  • Forceful movements: Throwing or hitting sports may contribute when excessive force is used.

Symptoms of Golfer’s Elbow

When discussing symptoms, I focus on the pain and tenderness felt on the inside of the elbow, which can extend along the inner side of the forearm. Stiffness in the elbow and weakness in the hands or wrists are also common symptoms.

  • Pain and tenderness: Usually located on the inside of the elbow, sometimes extending along the forearm.
  • Stiffness: Difficulty moving the elbow without discomfort.
  • Weakness: A noticeable decrease in grip strength.

Diagnosis of Golfer’s Elbow

golfer's elbow

I advise patients that diagnosis usually starts with a thorough history and physical examination. A doctor may perform specific tests, applying pressure to the affected area or asking the patient to move the elbow, wrist, and fingers in various ways.

  • Physical examination: Assesses pain, tenderness, and stiffness in the elbow.
  • Imaging tests: While not always required, an MRI or ultrasound may be utilized for a clearer picture of the tendons.

By understanding the causes, recognizing the symptoms, and undergoing the appropriate diagnostic tests, golfer’s elbow can be effectively managed and treated.

Tennis Elbow vs. Golfer’s Elbow Made Simple

Tennis elbow and golfer’s elbow are both forms of epicondylitis, an inflammation of tendons surrounding the elbow joint. I differentiate these conditions primarily by their location and the tendons affected.

Tennis Elbow (Lateral Epicondylitis):

  • Location: Pain is on the outside of the elbow.
  • Tendons Affected: Extensor carpi radialis brevis (ECRB).
  • Motion: Caused by repetitive extension or twisting of the wrist and forearm.

Golfer’s Elbow (Medial Epicondylitis):

  • Location: Pain is on the inside of the elbow.
  • Tendons Affected: Wrist flexor tendons.
  • Motion: Caused by repetitive flexing, gripping, or swinging.

The pain experienced with both conditions suggests inflammation and micro-tears in the tendons. With tennis elbow, the pain may radiate from the outside of the elbow to the forearm and wrist, while with golfer’s elbow, the pain typically stays on the inside of the arm. Over time, this discomfort can lead to a gripping weakness, making everyday tasks challenging.

To understand how these conditions compare, consider this simple breakdown:

FeatureTennis ElbowGolfer’s Elbow
Common NameTennis ElbowGolfer’s Elbow
Medical TermLateral EpicondylitisMedial Epicondylitis
Pain LocationOutside of elbowInside of elbow
Affected TendonsExtensor carpi radialis brevisWrist flexor tendons
Common CausesRepetitive wrist extension, racket sportsRepetitive wrist flexing, gripping, impact sports
To understand how these conditions compare, consider this simple breakdown

The treatment for both conditions involves rest, ice, anti-inflammatory medications, and in some cases, physical therapy. Understanding these nuances aids in effective management and prevention of future injury.

Treatment Options

When managing Tennis Elbow and Golfer’s Elbow, treatment choices range from non-invasive therapies to surgical interventions, based on the severity and duration of the condition.

Conservative Treatments

For initial treatment, I recommend rest and avoiding activities that exacerbate the condition. Applying ice to the affected area can help reduce pain and swelling. Using over-the-counter anti-inflammatory medications such as ibuprofen or naproxen can also alleviate pain and inflammation. It’s crucial to monitor your symptoms and adjust activities to avoid further strain on the tendons.

Physical Therapy & Exercises

Engagement in physical therapy is often beneficial for strengthening the muscles around the elbow, which can be a cornerstone for recovery. I advise patients to perform specific stretches and strengthening exercises that focus on the muscles of the forearm. These exercises can increase flexibility and reduce tendon strain. A trained physical therapist can guide you through exercises and may also employ modalities such as ultrasound or deep tissue massage to promote healing.


Surgery and Advanced Treatments

If symptoms persist despite exhaustive conservative management, I may consider advanced treatments. Some patients benefit from injections, such as corticosteroids or platelet-rich plasma (PRP), which can facilitate healing in the tendon tissue. Surgery may be an option for those with severe, chronic symptoms that do not respond to other treatments. Surgical intervention usually involves removing damaged tissue and aiding the healing process of the tendon.

Self-Care and Management

In managing tennis elbow and golfer’s elbow, I’ve discovered that taking measured steps at home can greatly assist in recovery. Below, I detail the home remedies and exercises that have been beneficial for me, as well as prevention strategies that can reduce the risk of these conditions.

Home Remedies

First and foremost, I apply an ice pack to my elbow for 15-20 minutes several times a day to reduce pain and swelling. Also, I sometimes use an elbow brace to offload stress from the affected tendons during activities.

  • Ice Pack Application
    • Duration: 15-20 minutes
    • Frequency: Several times a day
  • Elbow Brace
    • Purpose: Stress reduction on tendons

Exercise Tips


Exercises, particularly strengthening exercises, play a critical role in my self-care routine. I make sure to include gentle stretching to increase flexibility, followed by gradual strengthening of the forearm muscles.

  1. Flexibility
    • Extend and flex the wrist gently.
    • Rotate the forearm to improve range of motion.
  2. Strengthening
    • Squeeze a tennis ball softly.
    • Wrist curls and reverse wrist curls with a light dumbbell.

Lifestyle and Environmental Factors


In our discussion of Tennis Elbow and Golfer’s Elbow, I must highlight how certain lifestyles and environmental factors play a role. These conditions aren’t confined to athletes; they can also arise from everyday activities and occupations.

Returning to Activities

My guidance for returning to activities is to start slow. Any premature return to full activity can derail recovery efforts and potentially require more invasive corrective measures, like surgery. It’s important to acknowledge that while mobility may return, the tendons and muscles may still be susceptible to re-injury. I listen to my body, and if I experience pain during an activity, I take a step back and reassess.

  • Evaluate pain levels during and after activity
  • Incrementally increase the intensity of the activity
  • Utilize supportive braces or straps as needed for additional support
  • Ensure proper footwear to support full body health

Engaging in activities too vigorously or too soon could lead to setbacks. My advice is to prioritize long-term health over short-term gains, allowing for a full recovery and reducing the risk of chronic problems.

Bottom Line

Understanding the differences between tennis elbow and golfer’s elbow is critical for athletes and active individuals. Tennis elbow, or lateral epicondylitis, affects the outside of the elbow and is caused by repetitive wrist and arm motions. In contrast, golfer’s elbow, known as medial epicondylitis, occurs on the inside of the elbow due to the overuse of the forearm muscles that control wrist and finger movement.

To prevent such injuries, incorporating proper technique and equipment when engaging in sports like pickleball is crucial. I’ve explored how to maintain elbow health in my article, ‘How to Avoid Injuries While Playing Pickleball,’ where specific strategies and exercises can be found. It’s not just about avoiding pain; it’s about enjoying your active lifestyle sustainably and safely. Remember, when experiencing persistent elbow pain, seeking a professional medical evaluation is important to determine the appropriate course of treatment and rehabilitative care.


What are the key differences in symptoms between tennis elbow and golfer’s elbow?

The primary symptom of tennis elbow is pain on the outside of the elbow, often radiating down the forearm, while golfer’s elbow typically causes pain on the inside of the elbow, sometimes extending to the wrist. Both conditions may result in stiffness and a weakened grip.

How can you treat both tennis elbow and golfer’s elbow effectively?

Effective treatment usually involves rest, ice, and over-the-counter pain relievers. For tennis elbow, specific strength and stretching exercises are beneficial. For golfer’s elbow, similar approaches are used, along with avoiding activities that trigger pain.

Can you experience both tennis elbow and golfer’s elbow simultaneously, and how would this be managed?

Yes, it’s possible to have both conditions at once, though it’s uncommon. Management would include a thorough evaluation to tailor a treatment plan addressing both sets of symptoms, potentially involving physical therapy and activity modification.

What specific exercises or stretches are recommended for relieving pain from golfer’s elbow?

Exercises for golfer’s elbow focus on strengthening the wrist flexors and may involve squeezing a tennis ball or wrist curls. Stretching the affected muscles can also help; one recommended stretch involves holding the arm straight out and gently bending the wrist down.

What are the common causes of golfer’s elbow, and how can it be prevented?

Golfer’s elbow is commonly caused by repetitive wrist flexion or gripping activities. It can be prevented by strengthening forearm muscles, using proper technique during activities, and taking breaks to avoid overuse.

Are there any clinical tests or indicators that help diagnose tennis vs. golfer’s elbow?

Yes, clinicians may use specific physical examination techniques, such as the Cozen’s test for tennis elbow or the Golfer’s elbow test (Tinel sign), where tapping over the medial epicondyle can elicit symptoms if golfer’s elbow is present. Imaging tests like MRI can also aid in diagnosis.

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Ken Kochman is the founder and chief editor at His aim? Very simple. Cut through all the hype and misleading advertisements so you can make the best decision for your pickleball needs based on your level of play.

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