All through Little League and middle school, Grace played second base on her softball teams. But when she got to high school, the coach moved her to third. Grace was having trouble making the longer throw across the infield, so every day after practice she stayed late and made dozens of long throws, thinking she was strengthening her arm.
After a few weeks, Grace noticed a slight pain in her elbow, but she kept playing softball. Soon, though, the pain got so bad that sometimes she could barely throw at all. That's when she went to see a doctor. The doctor examined her elbow and asked Grace about her recent activities. After the exam, he told her she probably had medial epicondylitis and should stop playing softball for a month or more to let her arm rest.
Medial epicondylitis (pronounced: mee-dee-uhl ep-ih-kon-di-lite-uss) is a kind of tendonitis. Tendonitis is when a tendon is swollen, irritated, or injured.
Tendons are the tough connective tissues that attach our muscles to our bones. The tendons that attach the muscles in the forearm to the bone connect to two small knobs on the upper arm bone called epicondyles. The medial epicondyle is the bony knob you can feel on the inside of your elbow, closest to your body.
When the tendon that attaches the medial epicondyle to the muscles gets tendonitis, it's called medial epicondylitis. You may hear this called "golfer's elbow," but in reality it happens mostly to pitchers.
Medial epicondylitis can make moving the elbow or wrist painful. The good news is, most cases heal on their own with rest and at-home treatment.
Medial epicondylitis usually happens in person's dominant arm. So if you're right-handed, you'd be more likely to feel pain in your right arm. If you're a lefty, it would probably be your left arm. The pain can start right away or come on gradually over time.
Other common signs that arm pain might be caused by medial epicondylitis include:
People with medial epicondylitis also can feel increased pain when they do things that involve the hands and wrists, such as picking things up, turning doorknobs, shaking hands, and playing sports like golf and tennis.
If you feel pain in your elbow that doesn't go away after a couple of days or gets worse, call a doctor. The doctor will examine your elbow and forearm and ask questions about any activities that might have caused repeated stress on your wrist or hands.
The doctor will check the strength and range of motion in your elbow, wrist, and forearm. For a more serious case (or to rule out other problems), the doctor might want you to have an X-ray.
Most of the time, athletes get medial epicondylitis because they are repeating the same motion over and over — like throwing a ball or swinging a golf club. These kinds of overuse situations can eventually cause damage and swelling in the tendon that connects to the epicondyle.
Pitchers aren't the only athletes who develop medial epicondylitis. Sports that involve the hands and arms — such as tennis, golf, softball, rowing, weight lifting, and even biking — can increase someone's risk.
You don't have to play sports to get medial epicondylitis. People who lift objects, play the violin, paint, or type on a computer for long periods of time also are at risk. Basically, if you're using your hands and wrists repeatedly, especially in awkward positions, you're more likely to get a case of medial epicondylitis.
The best way to prevent medial epicondylitis is to avoid activities that require you to use your hands and wrists a lot, especially if the movements are repeated. Of course, that's not always possible.
If your sport or job requires repetitive arm movement, take these steps to protect yourself:
Most cases of medial epicondylitis can be treated at home easily. Doctors will do surgery as a last resort if nothing else is working, but it's rare that someone will need surgery for this injury.
Here are some things your doctor might suggest:
Medial epicondylitis is rarely a serious or long-term injury. But it can keep you off the pitch (or course or court) for a few months if you don't give your arm some rest and take steps to treat it.
Avoid the temptation to start playing again too soon — you may re-injure yourself and have an even longer healing period. When you start swinging a club or racquet again, you want to be sure you're ready.
Reviewed by: Alfred Atanda Jr., MD
Date reviewed: October 2012
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