Pain on the inside of your elbow, stiffness that's worse in the morning, weakness and tingling in your hand — if you have golfer's elbow, these symptoms probably sound really familiar! Usually, resting your arm, icing the area, and wearing a brace for a few weeks or months allows the injury to heal. But if you've done all these things and you're still dealing with symptoms, then it may be time to consider surgery.
Why is surgery sometimes needed for golfer's elbow?
At this point, you may be wondering why you have friends who recovered from golfer's elbow with conservative therapy alone, but you can't. The main reason is that golfer's elbow can range in severity. It's basically a stretching and inflammation of the tendons that connect your forearm muscles to the inside of your elbow joint. If this stretching and inflammation are minor to moderate, your body can heal the problem on its own. If the problem is more severe, your body may not be able to heal, no matter how much time and care you give it.
It's often hard for an orthopedic doctor to tell with a scan and symptom analysis how severe golfer's elbow is, so they take a wait-and-see approach. If it doesn't get better within about 6 months, then they determine that surgery is needed.
What does the surgery involve?
Usually, this procedure will be performed by an orthopedic surgeon, either in a hospital or an ambulatory surgery center. An incision will be made along the inside of your elbow. Through this incision, your surgeon will repair the injured tendon. The surgery is relatively routine and only takes a couple of hours, at most. You can generally go home later on the same day as your surgery.
What is the recovery period like?
When you return home after golfer's elbow surgery, you'll need to ice the affected area consistently. Most surgeons will send you home with an ice machine you can use to constantly circulate chilled water over the area. You'll take pain relievers to keep the pain and inflammation down.
After two or three weeks, you can begin physical therapy to strengthen your elbow again. Most patients can return to work after about two weeks, although your arm use will be limited for up to 2 months.
Golfer's elbow often heals on its own, but if yours does not, then surgery is a great option. Talk to an orthopedic surgeon near you to learn more.