Eliminate Golfer’s Elbow So That It Never Comes Back
There’s no question that the golf swing is a full body movement, but your body only has one true connection with the golf club; your hands. Between playing rounds and getting out to the range to practice, the muscles in your forearms that control your grip can take a beating during golf season. Just like any other part of your body, it’s important to take care of those muscles to ensure that you don’t suffer a case of golf or tennis elbow. While these conditions have different names and occur on opposite sides of the elbow, both arise from the same root cause, a lack of balanced strength in the forearms.
What is Golfer’s Elbow?
Golfer’s Elbow (Medial Epicondylitis) and Tennis Elbow (Lateral Epicondylitis) are very similar conditions that are characterized by pain in the elbow and forearm area. A good way to remember which is which is that Tennis Elbow occurs on the side of the forearm with hair (fuzzy like a tennis ball) and Golfer’s Elbow occurs on the side of the forearm without hair (smooth like a golf ball). Both are considered overuse injuries and are caused by repetitive strain on the muscles and tendons of the forearm. This repetitive strain leads to breakdown and inflammation of the muscles. I know what you’re thinking, “So you mean there is such thing as TOO MUCH golf?”! There is, but only if you don’t prepare your body for it.
Like so many other preventable injuries, the solution is simple. To prevent forearm injuries, we like to use one basic stretching series and one basic exercise series that addresses the issue from multiple angles, and all you need is a pair of small dumbbells. We’ve found that this simple combination of stretching and strengthening done a few times per week can significantly decrease the chance of getting a case of golf or tennis elbow! The best part is that you’re reading this as the season is winding down, so now you have all offseason to prepare your body for next year!
Note: If you have a debilitating or extreme case of epicondylitis, you should see a physical therapist or sports medicine doctor before starting any kind of treatment plan.
When performing the forearm stretch, simply hold your arm straight out in front of you, and with the opposite hand, grab your fingers and pull them up and back toward you. Hold this position for 30 seconds to stretch the flexors (muscles on the smooth side of the forearm). Once the time is up, point your fingers down, and this time put your other hand over the back of your hand pulling it toward you. This will stretch the extensors (muscles on the furry side of your forearm). Hold this for 30 seconds as well. Pair these with your strength exercises and alternate by doing a set of stretches before ever set of strength exercises. Even if you feel one stretch more than the other it is important to perform both stretches every time!
3-Way Dumbbell Forearms
While the stretching provides temporary relief from pain, strength is what is going to prevent it from coming back. After completing a set of forearm stretches, break out the light weights. I recommend starting with something as light as two pounds and focusing on slowly moving through a full range of motion. Starting in a standing position, begin by holding the weights out in front of you with palms down. Pull your knuckles up toward the ceiling, then lower back down to the starting position. Do this for 30-50 reps. Next bring your elbows down by your side with your palms up, let the weight roll down your hands toward your finger tips, then curl them back up toward your forearms. Do this for the same amount of reps as the first exercise. Finally, from the same starting position, rotate your hands from a palm up to palm down position repeatedly. Do this for the same amount of reps as the first two exercises.
To progress, simply start adding reps. Work your way up to being able to do multiple sets of 50 of each exercise. When this becomes easy, slowly start adding weight, being sure not to get too overzealous. The benefits of this exercise don’t come from using heavy weights, they come from increasing the amount of time that you can do the exercise for, so slower is better. Perform this series 2-3 times per week throughout the offseason and you’re on your way to a healthy golf season next year!
Steve Zarriello is a Certified Strength and Conditoning Specialist, TPI Certified coach, and the owner of Olympia Fitness and Performance, located in Cranston, RI. He has been training clients of all different ages, abilities and backgrounds to help them reach their specific goals for almost 15 years. His primary focus is on working with golfers to help improve their ability to play the game and keep them pain free.