What is medial epicondylitis?

Medial epicondylitis (golfer’s elbow) is a type of tendinitis that affects the inside of the elbow. It develops where tendons in the forearm muscle connect to the bony part on the inside of the elbow.

Tendons attach muscles to bones. Due to injury or irritation, they can become swollen and painful. Although medial epicondylitis is referred to as golfer’s elbow, it doesn’t only affect golfers. It can occur from any activity involving use of the arms or wrists, including tennis and baseball.

Medial epicondylitis can occur suddenly or develop slowly over a period of time. Symptoms can range from mild to severe. If you have golfer’s elbow, you may experience any of the following:

  • pain on the inside of your elbow
  • elbow stiffness
  • hand and wrist weakness
  • tingling sensation or numbness in the fingers, especially the ring and little fingers
  • difficulty moving the elbow

It’s not unusual for elbow pain to radiate down the arm to the wrist. This makes it difficult to complete everyday activities, such as picking up items, opening a door, or giving a handshake. Typically, medial epicondylitis affects the dominant arm.

Medial epicondylitis is caused by repetitive motions, which is why this condition occurs among athletes. Golfers may develop this type of tendinitis from repeatedly swinging a golf club, whereas tennis players can develop it from repeatedly using their arms to swing a tennis racket. In both cases, overuse of the arms and wrist damages tendons and triggers pain, stiffness, and weakness.

Other risk factors for this type of tendinitis include playing baseball or softball, rowing, and weightlifting. Activities like playing an instrument and typing on the computer can also lead to medial epicondylitis

If pain in your elbow doesn’t improve, see a doctor. Your doctor may ask questions about your symptoms, pain level, medical history, and any recent injuries. You’ll also need to provide information about your daily activities, including your work duties, hobbies, and recreational activities.

Your doctor may complete a physical examination, which may include applying pressure to your elbow, wrist, and fingers to check for stiffness or discomfort.

Before diagnosing medial epicondylitis, your doctor may order an X-ray of the inside of your elbow, arm, or wrist to rule out other possible causes of pain, such as a fracture or arthritis.

Pain, stiffness, and weakness associated with medial epicondylitis can improve with home remedies.

  • Rest your arm. Repeatedly using the affected arm can prolong healing and worsen your symptoms. Stop activities that involve repetitive movements until the pain disappears. Once the pain disappears, gradually ease back into activities to avoid re-injuring yourself.
  • Apply ice or a cold compress to reduce swelling, pain, and inflammation. Wrap ice in a towel and apply the compress to your elbow for up to 20 minutes, 3 or 4 times a day.
  • Take over-the-counter (OTC) medication. Ibuprofen (Advil) and acetaminophen (Tylenol) can reduce swelling and inflammation. Take medication as directed. Depending on the severity of pain, your doctor may recommend a steroid injection.
  • Do stretching exercises. Ask your doctor about safe exercises for stretching and strengthening your tendons. If you have weakness or numbness, you may be a suitable candidate for physical or occupational therapy.
  • Wear a brace. This can reduce tendinitis and muscle strain. Another option is wrapping an elastic bandage around your elbow.

Most cases will improve with OTC medication and home remedies. If your symptoms don’t improve, your doctor may suggest surgery as a last resort.

This surgery is known as an open medial epicondylar release. During the procedure, a surgeon makes an incision in your forearm, cuts the tendon, removes the damaged tissues around the tendon, and then reattaches the tendon.

Golfer’s elbow can happen to anyone, but there are ways to reduce your risk and prevent this condition.

  • Stretch before physical activity. Before exercising or engaging in sports, warm up or do gentle stretches to prevent injury. This includes light walking or jogging before increasing your intensity.
  • Practice correct form. Improper technique or form can put extra stress on your elbows and wrists and cause tendinitis. Work with a sports or personal trainer to learn correct techniques when exercising and playing sports.
  • Give your arm a break. Medial epicondylitis can develop if you continue certain activities or sports while in pain. Stop any activity that causes pain to avoid injuring yourself.
  • Build arm strength. Increasing your arm strength can also prevent golfer’s elbow. This includes lifting light weights or squeezing a tennis ball.

Medial epicondylitis can be painful and interfere with physical activity, but it isn’t usually a long-term injury. The sooner you rest your arm and start treatment, the sooner you can recover and resume physical activity.