Golf Injuries to the Hand, Wrist or Elbow

Hand, wrist and elbow injuries are common for golfers of all skill levels. The golf swing is a complex, coordinated series of motions. Golf injuries can result from poor technique or overuse. They can also result from a single direct blow, like hitting a tree root.
The following are a few ways that could reduce the chances of an injury while golfing:

  1. Proper warm up and stretching is important. Make sure you stretch hamstrings, calves, obliques, back, shoulders, and wrists before you begin golfing.
  2. It is not advised to have sudden, large changes in the number of swings of the club. At the beginning of the season, gradually increase length of play and intensity as the season progresses.
  3. Make sure you have good aerobic conditioning and core muscle strength to improve swing mechanics.
  4. It may help to get instruction with a teaching professional to refine technique. This is especially important if you are new to golf or haven’t played in a while.

Types of Golf Injuries

Golf injuries can include tendonitis, sprains or fractures (broken bones). These injuries may arise by the repeated stress of practicing the golf swing. Gripping activities like hammering or heavy lifting can also cause these injuries. Some specific golf injuries may include:

Sprained Wrist
A sprain is an injury to a ligament. Ligaments connect one bone to another. Symptoms most often involve pain and popping in the wrist. Mild sprains may be treated with a cold treatment (ice), anti-inflammatories, rest, and splints. More severe or pain that is lasting longer than you expected should be evaluated by a hand surgeon. Imaging of the wrist may be necessary to look for a fracture or abnormal separation of the bones. When x-rays do not reveal the cause of pain, sometimes a MRI is needed. Some sprains are severe enough that they require surgery.

In the wrist, tendonitis often occurs in the leading hand (left hand for a right handed player). In the elbow, this can sometimes be referred to as medial epicondylitis or “golfer’s elbow.” Pain is often on the inner, or medial, part of the elbow. This is where the muscles that bend the wrist and fingers attach (Figure 1). Lateral epicondylitis, also known as “tennis elbow,” is another form of tendonitis in which the pain is mostly on the outer part of the elbow. It is more common than golfer's elbow, despite the name.

Initial treatment for tendonitis consists of rest, ice, stretching, splinting and anti-inflammatory medications. For tennis elbow, try to lift objects palm up. For golfer’s elbow, try to lift objects with the palm down. Tendonitis can be improved by certain exercises. These exercises stretch and strengthen muscles and tendons. These can be recommended by a hand therapist. Changing grips on the golf club may also help. Sometimes steroid injections (also known as a cortisone shot) are tried. Most epicondylitis will resolve after many months. A small number of cases may require surgery to relieve the pain.

Hamate Bone Fractures
This injury often occurs when the club strikes the ground. When this happens, the handle presses against the boney hook-shaped part of the hamate bone (Figures 2, 3 and 4). The hook part of the bone can break, causing pain in the heel of the hand. This hook fracture often does not heal. The unhealed fracture may have rough edges that result in a flexor tendon rupture months or years later. Thus, the most common treatment is to perform a surgery to remove the hook of hamate. This often resolves the pain and protects against tendon rupture.

Damaged Blood Vessels
Blood vessel damage can happen from the club handle repeatedly striking the palm. "Hypothenar Hammer Syndrome" describes an injury to the ulnar artery. The ulnar artery is one of the main arteries to the hand. This occurs where repeated blows weaken the vessel wall. It then causes it to increase in size, and sometimes a blood clot forms. There is often pain in the palm, and sometimes disrupted blood flow going to the fingertips. There may also be pain, numbness and color changes in the fingertips. This enlarging blood vessel may require surgery.

© 2020 American Society for Surgery of the Hand

This content is written, edited and updated by hand surgeon members of the American Society for Surgery of the Hand. Find a hand surgeon near you.

Figure 1
The inner aspect of the elbow where medial epicondylitis, one of the common golf injuries, causes painful tendonitis.
Figure 2
Hook of the hamate as it grips a golf club. The hook part of the bone can break, causing a hamate bone fractures, one of the common golf injuries.
Figure 3
Small bones of the wrist can be involved in golf injuries.
Figure 4
CT scan showing fracture of hook of hamate at its base
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