Tennis and Golfer's Elbow

Tennis and Golfer’s Elbow (No Tennis or Golf Required!)

People often ask me what the difference is between tennis and golfer’s elbow. Tennis elbow seems to get more press, and in fact it is more common by a factor of 5. Which is not to say that they can’t both be debilitating and aggravating.

Here’s the difference: Tennis elbow is pain on the outside of the elbow joint, and golfer’s elbow is on the inside. What’s perhaps not appreciated is that both of these conditions are often not caused by tennis or golf! You can get either one from other sports you enjoy, your job, or your hobbies. It comes from repetitive jolts or trauma to those areas.

Once you think of it that way, you can start to understand that the elbow can get irritated because the wrist, forearms, upper arms, or shoulders are compromised in some way. This can happen when those areas are weak, but also when you do repetitive motions in awkward positions. Notice that this includes using poor technique or form during tennis, golf, or other sports (golfer’s elbow is sometimes also called “pitcher’s elbow).

Teaching Moments

Without further adieu I am going to launch into some “teaching moments”. I want to give you a suggestion for something to do that may not seem remotely related to tennis or golf. But it WILL help with those endeavors, plus plenty of other things you may be doing.

The main point here is that if we do our best to keep ourselves tuned up overall, we can prevent our elbows from getting irritated.

FIRST A HEAD’S UP: Since I am a Titleist Certified Golf Fitness Instructor, I may lean a little towards using golfers as examples, but that doesn’t mean the principles can’t be applied to lots of other things we do in life. I will explain how.

OK. Let’s get on with it.

Whatever you do, learn to do it with a straight wrist. Most notably, if you are lifting anything (like weights in the gym, a gallon of milk, or wielding a paint roller), take care to use your whole arm for the motion. Exception would be when you are doing specific wrist strengthening exercises or stretches. It turns out that GRIPPING is one of the main culprits in aggravating your elbow. Therefore, you need to give that activity some support, sometimes even with your whole body. This may seem like a bit of a stretch, but bear with me.

Consider this: The 12 most common swing faults in amateur golfers relate to POSTURE, CORE STRENGTH, AND SHOULDER AND HIP MOBILITY. What can happen when swing technique is off? You got it: Golfer’s Elbow. So, GRIPPING is just the beginning. What you do once you grab on to the golf club will relate directly to how much trauma (or not) you can potentially be asking your elbow to absorb.

The same would be true of what you do in tennis, your hobbies, chores, or jobs.

Dying Bug Exercise

So, I am going to give you one (1) exercise to do that reinforces using a straight wrist and arm, is good for mobilizing your shoulders (by getting them to participate heavily in the movement), AND gets you to activate your core for stability. This exercise is one of the many variations of a great exercise called “Dying Bug” (some call it Dead Bug, but then there wouldn’t be any movement, would there?).

It goes like this: (see graphic below)

Lay on a mat, feet shoulder width apart, knees bent. Take one arm and bring it overhead, arm straight. At the same time take your opposite leg and straighten it out. The important thing here is to not move your hips, torso, or low back. You can accomplish this by activating your abdominal muscles to stabilize the movement. Bring that arm and leg back to the original position and then do the opposite sides. Repeat 10 times.

NOTES: The thing here is to get your whole body working together, learn to move your straight arm by using your shoulder, and use your core to keep your body still as you do this.

A really great thing to do is to add some light weights for your arms. Then you can use this to concentrate even more on keeping your arms and wrists straight.

The moral of the story?

Sometimes you just never know when an exercise can be working for you in unexpected ways. This reinforces the point (made above) of doing our best to keep ourselves tuned up overall.


© 2018-2020 Kristen Carter. All rights reserved.

Dying Bug 1
Dying Bug 1
Dying Bug 2
Dying Bug 2
The End of Try Try Again by Kristen Carter MS

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