Tennis vs Golfers Elbow: What’s The Difference?

Tennis elbow and golfer’s elbow are common conditions that, despite their names, extend far beyond athletes. Both conditions can cause significant discomfort and limit daily activities, yet they differ in their specifics.

This article explores the distinctions, causes, symptoms, and treatment options for both tennis elbow and golfer’s elbow. We will also touch upon conditions that might be mistaken for these ailments, ensuring you are well-informed to seek appropriate care for whatever discomfort you might be experiencing.

What Is the Difference Between Tennis Elbow and Golfer’s Elbow?

Tennis elbow and golfer’s elbow are both forms of tendonitis, which is an inflammation of the tendons. However, they affect different parts of the elbow and arm.

Tennis elbow, also known as lateral epicondylitis, involves the tendons attached to the outer side of the elbow, which connect to the muscles that extend the wrist backwards and straighten the fingers. 

Golfer’s elbow, or medial epicondylitis, affects tendons connected to the inner side of the elbow, linked to the muscles that flex the wrist and contract the fingers.

What Is Tennis Elbow?

Tennis elbow is a painful condition caused by overuse of the forearm muscles and tendons, particularly where the tendons attach to the bony outer part of the elbow. Although common among tennis players, this condition can affect anyone who performs activities involving repetitive wrist and arm motions.

What Are the Common Causes of Tennis Elbow?

Tennis elbow primarily results from repetitive motion of the wrist and arm. Common causes include:

  • Playing racquet sports, particularly with poor stroke technique.
  • Repetitive manual work, such as plumbing, painting, or cutting with scissors.
  • Activities requiring fine motor skills, such as typing or knitting.

What Are Tennis Elbow Symptoms?

Symptoms of tennis elbow include:

  • Pain and tenderness on the outside of the elbow.
  • Pain that radiates into the forearm and wrist.
  • Difficulty performing tasks such as turning a doorknob, holding a coffee cup, or shaking hands.

What Are Some Common Tennis Elbow Treatments?

Tennis elbow treatments aim to relieve pain and restore mobility. Common treatments include:

  • Rest and ice to reduce pain and swelling.
  • Over-the-counter pain relievers, such as ibuprofen or paracetemol.
  • Physiotherapy focusing on strengthening and stretching the forearm muscles.
  • Brace or strap to reduce stress on the affected area.
  • Steroid injections for severe cases.
  • Surgery, as a last resort, to remove damaged tissue and relieve pressure on the tendons.

What Is Golfer’s Elbow?

Golfer’s elbow, similar to tennis elbow, involves pain and inflammation. The pain, however, is centred on the bony bump on the inside of your elbow, with discomfort potentially extending along the inner side of your forearm.

What Are Common Causes of Golfer’s Elbow?

This condition is typically caused by activities that involve repetitive wrist turning or clenching. Causes include:

  • Golfing, particularly repeating the same arm motions.
  • Jobs or hobbies that require repetitive hand motion, such as throwing sports, carpentry, or painting.
  • Improper lifting, throwing, or hitting, as well as poor conditioning.

What Are Golfer’s Elbow Symptoms?

Symptoms of golfer’s elbow include:

  • Pain and tenderness on the inside of the elbow, sometimes extending along the inner side of the forearm.
  • Stiffness in the elbow.
  • Weakness in the hands and wrists.
  • Numbness or tingling that might radiate into the fingers.

What Are Some Common Golfer’s Elbow Treatments?

Treatment for golfer’s elbow, like tennis elbow, includes:

  • Rest and avoid activities that cause pain.
  • Ice application to reduce pain and swelling.
  • Over-the-counter pain relievers.
  • Physiotherapy to stretch and strengthen the muscles.
  • Brace or strap use to reduce tendon strain.
  • Steroid injections or surgery for severe cases.

What Can Be Mistaken for Tennis Elbow or Golfer’s Elbow?

Several other conditions can mimic the symptoms of tennis elbow and golfer’s elbow, including:

  • Osteoarthritis: Particularly common in the elbow joint.
  • Bursitis: Inflammation of a bursa near the elbow joint can mimic the pain of epicondylitis.
  • Ligament sprains: Injuries to the ligaments around the elbow.
  • Nerve entrapment: Such as cubital tunnel syndrome or radial tunnel syndrome.

Both tennis elbow and golfer’s elbow are treatable conditions, often resolved with conservative measures. Understanding their differences, causes, and symptoms can help in choosing the right treatment strategy. If you suspect you have either condition, consulting with a healthcare provider is recommended to ensure proper diagnosis and management. Remember, early intervention is key to a quick and effective recovery.

Preventative Strategies for Tennis and Golf Elbow

While treatment is important, prevention plays a critical role in avoiding the onset of both tennis and golf elbow. Here are several preventative measures that can help keep these conditions at bay:

Proper Technique

Whether engaging in sports or repetitive work activities, proper form and technique can reduce strain on your elbows. For athletes, working with a coach to ensure correct technique and posture can be especially beneficial.

Equipment Check

Using equipment that suits your body size and strength is crucial. For example, tennis players should select racquets with the appropriate grip size and string tension. Similarly, golfers should ensure their clubs are tailored to their stance and strength.

Strength and Flexibility Training

Regular exercises that strengthen the muscles of the forearm, wrist, and shoulder can help prevent injury. Flexibility exercises that include stretching the muscles and tendons around the elbow can also be beneficial.

Gradual Increase in Activity

Avoid sudden increases in the intensity or duration of activities. Gradually build up the frequency, intensity, and duration of the exercise to give your muscles and tendons time to adapt.

Regular Breaks

Take breaks during activities that involve repetitive arm movements to reduce strain on the elbow. This is particularly important in occupations requiring repetitive manual work.

When to Seek Professional Help

It’s crucial to seek professional help if you experience persistent pain or symptoms related to tennis or golf elbow that do not improve with home treatment. Health professionals can offer a range of solutions which may include:

  • Medical Diagnosis: Confirming the diagnosis with imaging tests if required.
  • Physiotherapy: Tailored exercises that focus on gradual strengthening and stretching.
  • Advanced Treatment Options: Such as ultrasound therapy, shockwave therapy, or in severe cases, surgical interventions.

Healthcare providers can also offer guidance on adjustments to activities to ensure a full recovery and prevent recurrence.

Innovative and Non-Invasive Treatments

The evolution of treatment strategies for tennis and golf elbow has included a variety of innovative and non-invasive options:

  • Platelet-Rich Plasma (PRP) Injections: This treatment involves injecting a concentration of a patient’s own platelets to accelerate the healing of injured tendons. This approach is increasingly popular due to its effectiveness in treating tendon injuries.
  • Ultrasound Therapy: This method uses sound waves to promote healing and is effective in reducing inflammation and pain.
  • Laser Therapy: MLS Laser Therapy can help reduce pain and inflammation and enhance tissue repair.

These treatments, while advanced, are non-invasive and offer a promising solution to those suffering from chronic elbow pain. They are part of a broader movement towards treatments that not only alleviate symptoms but also promote long-term health and mobility.


Understanding the differences between tennis elbow and golfer’s elbow is the first step in effectively managing these conditions. Both can significantly impact daily activities but are manageable with the right approach, including preventative measures, appropriate treatments, and when necessary, professional help. Whether you are a seasoned athlete, a weekend warrior, or someone whose job demands repetitive motions, awareness and early intervention are the keys to a successful recovery and long-term elbow health.

Through education, appropriate preventive measures, and advancements in treatment options, individuals suffering from these elbow conditions can look forward to improved outcomes and a quicker return to their daily and sporting activities. If you’re struggling with symptoms of either condition, remember that effective and innovative options are available to help you regain comfort and function in your elbow. Get in touch with our expert physiotherapists to discover our innovative treatment.

Got A Question?

The Author

Lewis Payne

Lewis graduated from The University of Nottingham in 2013 with a First Class Honours in Physiotherapy, worked as Sheffield F.C.’s first team Physiotherapist, and now runs a leading-edge private clinic in Sheffield. With over ten years of experience, he specialises in manual therapy, advanced technological treatments, and exercise-based approaches, focusing on spinal and joint conditions, sports injuries, and specifically complex spinal issues like disc pathology and scoliosis. Lewis leads in IDD Therapy, performing over 6000 treatments, offers MRI referrals and reviews, and employs a holistic treatment philosophy viewing the body as a Tensegrity structure. He excels in postural analysis, soft tissue release techniques, and prescribes biomechanical corrective exercises to enhance natural movement.