Is it golfer’s elbow or tennis elbow? Learn how to tell the difference.

Contrary to its name, you don’t have to be a golfer to have golfer’s elbow. Likewise, you don’t have to play tennis to get tennis elbow. In fact, you don’t have to be an athlete at all to develop one of these painful conditions.

Golfer’s elbow and tennis elbow are types of tendonitis that cause pain and inflammation in the tendons that connect the muscles in the forearm to the elbow. Anyone who regularly uses repetitive motions of the wrist and arm is susceptible to golfer’s elbow and tennis elbow. Carpenters, plumbers, weightlifters and baseball and softball pitchers often experience golfer’s and tennis elbow, and you can develop it from simply raking your yard or painting your kitchen.

“Golfer’s elbow, or medial epicondylitis, occurs when there is damage to the tendons on the inside of the elbow,” said Dr. Ashish Kumar Patel, MD, a Penn Highlands Orthopedics and Sports Medicine Physician and Orthopedic Surgeon, “while tennis elbow, or lateral epicondylitis, occurs when there is damage to the tendons on the outside of the elbow.”

Tennis elbow is caused by stress or overuse of the muscles used to bend your wrist backward and straighten your fingers. Golfer’s elbow, on the other hand, is caused by overuse of the muscles used to flex your wrist and close your fingers into a fist.

“While tennis elbow and golfer’s elbow are similar injuries, it’s fairly simple to determine which one you have because they affect different sides of the elbow,” said Dr. Patel. “If it hurts to make a fist with your hand, it’s likely golfer’s elbow. If it hurts to straighten your fingers, it’s probably tennis elbow.”

It’s possible to have golfer’s elbow and tennis elbow at the same time. Tennis players, golfers, construction workers and plumbers make frequent use of both sides of the elbow and can damage both sides simultaneously.

The treatment for both conditions is very similar, and it starts with avoiding activities that causes pain. If you return to activity too soon, you could injure the area even further. Try to avoid any activity that causes pain until the pain completely subsides.

“To reduce pain and inflammation, you can also apply ice to the affected area or take an over-the-counter pain reliever,” said Dr. Patel.

If the pain doesn’t subside on its own, talk to your primary care provider or orthopedic specialist. They may recommend a physical therapy regimen to stretch and strengthen your muscles and tendons.

Penn Highlands Orthopedic and Sports Medicine offers comprehensive care for a wide range of orthopedic injuries and conditions, including golfer’s elbow, tennis elbow, tendinitis, rotator cuff syndrome, ankle sprains, muscle and tendon tears, fractures, knee injuries and more. For more information, visit