For many people, autumn means one last chance at warm weather and increased outdoor physical activity.
But increased physical activity can also mean increased risk of injury. And for golfers and tennis players, that means an increased risk of tennis elbow or golfer’s elbow.
Matthew Axtman, DO, a sports medicine specialist with Spectrum Health Medical Group, says the three keys to avoiding these injuries are conditioning, technique and proper equipment.
Tennis elbow, or lateral epicondylitis, happens when the tendons that connect the forearm muscles to the outside part of the elbow bone wear down, placing greater stress on the area, which can lead to loss of strength and significant pain.
Dr. Axtman says proper whole-body conditioning, however, can prevent this. He said abdominal muscles, the lower back, the upper back, shoulders, chest, glute muscles and hip stabilizers are all used when swinging a tennis racket, and can all take pressure off those forearm muscles and elbow tendons.
“It’s all one muscular chain,” Dr. Axtman said. “If you don’t have core stability, that’s really going to throw things off.”
Golfer’s elbow is similar to tennis elbow, except it deals with the tendons that connect the forearm muscles to the inside portion of the elbow bone. Proper technique can prevent both tennis elbow and golfer’s elbow.
“As you’re coming back with your racket and preparing to swing, you need to rotate to bring that swing through and help stabilize that racket and those muscles,” Dr. Axtman said. “Proper technique takes care of that.”
And on the golf course, “if you make a big divot or if you hit the ball wrong, you put undue stress on the common flexor tendon (the one that connects the elbow to the forearm muscles) and the inside of the elbow.”
His advice? “Get with a professional. Make sure you’re using proper technique.”
Lastly, Dr. Axtman said well-calibrated equipment is important. For example, if “your grip is too large or too small, or the strings are too tight or too loose, as you hit ball, that racket is going to bounce around,” which could lead to injury.
Too heavy of a racket can also put too much stress on the forearm muscles. These issues can also be solved by consulting with a professional.
If a player does have a sore elbow, they should not continue to play, Dr. Axtman said.
Tennis elbow and golfer’s elbow are overuse injuries, and without rest the afflicted muscles and joints will continue to wear down. In addition to rest, basic eccentric contraction exercises can also help strengthen the muscles and repair tendons.
If pain persists, see a medical professional.