When it hurts to comb your hair, it could be your rotator cuff

A rotator cuff tear is a pretty common cause of shoulder pain and disability among adults. It is the most commonly torn structure in the shoulder. Each year, approximately 200,000 Americans require shoulder surgery related to repair of the rotator cuff and an additional 400,000 Americans have surgery for related rotator cuff tendonitis or for partial tears. Studies indicate that over 50% of individuals aged 65 and over may have rotator cuff tears.
 
How do you know if you’ve torn your rotator cuff? It hurts and it makes your arm on the injured side weak and a bit useless. A torn rotator cuff will make many activities you typically take for granted – pulling a shirt over your head, combing your hair, reaching for something on a high shelf – painful and difficult to do.
 
A rotator cuff tears when the edge of the rotator cuff tendon is pulled away from its normal attachment to the humeral head (upper arm bone). This can result from a sudden force on the shoulder, such as a fall on the arm, or from progressive wear. Tears can be partial or full-thickness.
 
There are both surgical and non-surgical approaches to treating a rotator cuff tear. The best treatment depends on the tear and one the patient and can only be determined by a qualified physician after an examination and imaging. Nonsurgical treatment options may include rest, activity modification, non-steroidal anti-inflammatory medication, strengthening exercises and physical therapy, or steroid injections. Surgery may be recommended if pain does not improve with nonsurgical methods, if the tear is quite large, or if loss of function is significant.
 
If you are experiencing chronic shoulder and arm pain, don’t “tough it out.” See a qualified orthopaedist like Dr. Thomas Fyda of Great Basin Orthopaedics, who is fellowship trained in Sports Medicine, for a diagnosis. Not only can early diagnosis and treatment prevent your symptoms from getting worse and get you back to your normal routine more quickly, ignoring it may cause further damage.
 
Reference material for this article was found at American Academy of Orthopaedic Surgeons website, http://orthoinfo.aaos.org/topic.cfm?topic=A00064, and http://www.aaos.org/news/aaosnow/jan11/cover1.asp