Heat or Cold Therapy for Golfer's Elbow

Golfer's elbow, also known as medial epicondylitis, is a type of tendinitis 1. It occurs when the joint tendons, muscles and ligaments responsible for controlling movement of your forearm develop small tears, or micro tears. The result is pain, inflammation, restriction of movement and formation of calcium deposits and scar tissue. Besides pain, other symptoms of golfer's elbow include stiffness, weakness, tingling and numbness. At-home remedies such as heat or cold therapy help relieve these symptoms and promote healing.

Is This an Emergency?

If you are experiencing serious medical symptoms, seek emergency treatment immediately.

Causes of and Risk Factors for Golf Elbow

Overuse and repetitive activities that strain the muscles in your forearm are the most common causes of golfer's elbow. While the condition is called "golfer's elbow," activities such as using work tools or playing tennis increase your risk of developing it. Poor conditioning of your forearm muscles and a direct injury to your elbow are also risk factors, according to The Stretching Handbook website.

When to Use Cold Therapy

Ice or cold therapy, or cryotherapy, is more effective at treating tendonitis when symptoms first develop, according to Edward R. Laskowski, a physical medicine and rehabilitation specialist at the Mayo Clinic 1. Ice helps to constrict blood vessels to reduce swelling and inflammation resulting from tissue injury. Cold therapy can also reduce muscle spasms and numb pain. Cold therapy includes using cold packs, bags of ice or fluids like ethyl chloride. Always place a thin cloth between your skin and the ice pack to avoid tissue damage. Limit cold therapy to 15 to 20 minutes at a time, as longer exposure can also lead to tissue damage.

When to Use Heat Therapy

Heat opens up blood vessels and increases blood flow to your injured elbow joint, which promotes healing. It alleviates symptoms such as pain, stiffness and fluid build-up, or edema, in the tissues. However, you should not apply heat to a new injury; wait three to four days before using it or until swelling subsides. You can choose from a variety of heat therapies, according to The Merck Manuals, such as using a heat pack; soaking your elbow in warm, moving water, such as in a hot tub; using infrared heat or heated wax; or applying a medicated heat rub. Do not apply heat to any area with an open wound.


If you have long-standing golfer's elbow, you can use either ice or heat to relieve your pain and other symptoms. However, if you have a medical condition such as kidney disease, diabetes or nerve damage, consult your doctor before using heat therapy, cautions The Merck Manuals. Also, watch for any adverse effects from using heat rubs as some of the ingredients, such as capsaicin, can cause irritation or an allergic reactions.