The heartbreak of Golfer's Elbow

Bluemound Bowl, Bowling, Craps, Injuries, My-Sugar-Na, Reno

Last week Friday (January 11th), I had surgery on my right elbow.  The first time I had a twinge in my elbow was in Januray 2005.  At that time, I had bowled three nights a week for a few years, but I was only bowling one night a week for the beginning of that seaon.  I was asked to bowl in a new league for the second half of that season, and on the very first night on this new team I felt a twinge in my elbow.  Not that it really hurt, because that same week I bowled a career-high 847 series at Bluemound Bowl (which included two 300 games).

The elbow got a little worse in the early part of 2005, but not painful enough to get anything done about it... it was more of a nagging ache that bothered me worse on some days than other days.  As a matter of fact, in April of that year I bowled an 804 series (the only time in my career that I had bowled two 800+ series in the same season).

When the bowling season started that next September, the arm was hurting even more.  I finally saw a doctor and got a steriod shot.  The shot worked wonders and I completed the 2005-06 season without any more pain.  My family doctor figured that it was probably an inflamed tendon (tendonitis) and the steroid shot had done its job (reduced the inflammation and promoted healing).  Unfortunatly, when bowling started in September 2006, the pain had returned.  My doctor gave me a second shot and said that if it comes back, he would refer me to a sports medicine doctor.  That shot lasted about five months before the pain returned in February 2007.

My sports medicine doctor wanted a "less invasive" course of treatment, so I went to an occupational therapist for massage, ultrasound, iontopheresis and some strengthening and stretching exercises.  All of that therapy worked for that day (meaning when I walked out of the office it felt great, then when I woke up the next morning it hurt again).  I bowled the National tournament in Reno in May, and by about the second game of the nine-game tournament, I had wished I had gotten another shot.  It hurt.  A lot.  And I spent more time whining to my team and to my wife that I was wasting my vacation.  In hindsight, it was still a great vacation, but a true waste of the yearly shot at bowling well at the National tournament.

My sports medicine doctor told me to take a month off but to continue the exercises.  I did so, and after a month of not bowling, I joined a summer league for the first time in about ten years.  On the first night of the summer league, my elbow hurt as bad as it ever had.  My sports medicine doctor then gave me a third steroid shot, and the warning that if this doesn't take care of it, further intervention would be required.

Sure enough, that shot didn't completely take away my soreness (though it did feel a lot better).  But around Halloween - only four short months later - the severe pain came back with a vengence.  I took a few weeks off of bowling (and threw my last ball of the season on the Friday after Thanksgiving), made an appointment for an MRI, and learned of the diognosis of "tendonosis, resulting from chronic medial epicondylitis - AKA Golfer's Elbow".  In other words, the previous tendonitis had left scar tissue, and now that scar tissue was causing problems of its own.  The flexor muscle had some minute tearing, and the scar tissue was preventing my body from repairing itself.  The longer it went on, the more the muscle was getting "tangled" in the scar tissue. 

The week before the surgery, the muscle damage was so bad that I couldn't straighten my right arm, I couldn't rotate my forearm, and it hurt to do everything that a right handed person would do with his/her right hand.  Considering the surgeon said that the "procedure" lasted only 30 minutes, he had the time to make a four-inch incision, remove the scar tissue, "release" the muscle, remove the damaged muscle, then reattach part of that muscle to the bone. 

I did learn a lot about how the body can compensate.  For example, before the surgery, I tried to shave left handed and it was a disaster.  Since the surgery, I managed to successfully shave twice.  Eating left handed with a fork wasn't a major issue, but try eating a messy hamburger one-handed (with either hand!)  With My-Sugar-Na's help, I was quickly able to figure out ways to tie my shoes and get my jacket on, and (confession time, here), I was VERY successful playing craps and Pai Gow Poker at Potowatomi with only my left hand.

It has now been a full week.  Although the stitches are still there (and they itch like hell), I have almost no pain.  I am not supposed to lift anything, but I have more use of my elbow now than I did before the surgery.  About the only time it hurts right now is when I stretch the arm to put on a jacket or sweatshirt, when I bump the incision, or when I am on the computer too long (this post is the most typing that I have done in about two weeks, and I am now starting to get a little sore.)

As I mentioned above, I am done bowling for this season, and I will miss my scheduled Nationals date of May 7 in Albuquerque.  The tournament runs through early-July, and my goal is to spend Independance Day in New Mexico. 

Now about that right knee, which my family doctor thinks is either bursitis or patellar tendonitis...

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