DEAR DR. DONOHUE: I live, breathe and die golf. I have even moved to a place where I can play it year-round. My playing days have come to a halt because of shoulder pain. The doctor thinks it’s a rotator cuff problem. How bad is this? Does it mean I will never play golf again? – K.R.

The rotator cuff is a sheet of tissue that wraps around the upper arm to hold it in the shoulder joint. The sheet of tissue is actually the tendons of four back muscles that work in close partnership with each other.

Rotator cuff injuries are not unique to golf. Swimming, tennis and any activity that calls for raising the arm over the head or directly to the side, as in a golf swing, stresses those tendons. Constant use without sufficient rest leads to inflammation and pain.

If your injury is one of inflammation, that won’t end your career. Rest, heat to the shoulder joint and anti-inflammatory medicines can straighten things out in two to four weeks.

If the rotator cuff is torn, then matters take on greater significance. Small tears respond to rest and the same treatment used for inflammation. Large tears often call for surgical repair. Many times that can be accomplished with the aid of an arthroscope. It is a viewing scope inserted into the shoulder through a small incision. Recovery from surgical repair can take months.

Most shoulder injuries, including rotator cuff problems, cause shoulder pain when lying in bed on one’s back. The shoulder falls backward just enough to stir up trouble. Putting a few pillows under the shoulder keeps it propped up and free of pain.

Don’t hold the shoulder completely immobile or it could freeze. So long as it’s not painful, swing the arm gently in a pendulum motion. That is best done if you bend at the waist and let the arm dangle downward. You don’t have to make giant swings. Little ones keep the shoulder from stiffening.

DEAR DR. DONOHUE: While in college, I experienced leg cramps while walking uphill in the cold to school. I was told that the pain was due to waste products that did not have enough time to be removed by the body. Is this, in fact, a circulatory problem? – L.P.

I hope that by “cramps” you mean pain, because my answer won’t address the problem if you don’t.

When people exercise strenuously without taking a break, their exercising muscles shift into a different kind of energy production – anaerobic (without oxygen). The end product of this sort of energy production is lactic acid.

Accumulation of lactic acid in muscles produces an uncomfortable, burning sensation. The circulation is not able to remove the lactic acid because the pace of exercise is too great for it to do so. It’s not a circulatory problem. It’s just the way normal bodies behave.

In most athletic activities, athletes spend some time in anaerobic energy production and accumulate too much lactic acid. A short break gets rid of it.

After a race, runners usually jog around the track. If they suddenly stopped moving, the circulation would slow and would not remove the lactic acid buildup.

DEAR DR. DONOHUE: My friend is trying to talk me into joining a yoga class. I am no athlete and never have been. She says I don’t need to be. Would someone like me get any benefits from yoga? – C.N.

You’ll get many benefits from yoga. It promotes strength and flexibility. It emphasizes slow, deep, rhythmic breathing and teaches a person how to focus on only one thing – the task at hand.

That’s a technique valuable to all people regardless of sport participation. It’s an excellent way to relieve stress, and it’s an excellent way to ignore distractions that intrude upon us when we want to concentrate on one thing.

Some forms of yoga require a smattering of athletic skill. Power yoga (Ashtanga) is somewhat physically taxing, but you are able to get the hang of it without a whole lot of trouble.

Try it. I know you’ll like it and will get much from it.

DEAR DR. DONOHUE: I am a 17-year-old girl who dreams of having hair that grows to my waist or even longer. I can’t get it to grow past my shoulders. Why? I see many women who have very long hair. Is there a vitamin I could take to make it grow? – B.R.

No vitamin, no mineral, no medicine can make your hair grow any longer than it has been programmed to grow by your genes.

The normal life span of hair is two years. That’s enough time to get it to your shoulders, but not enough time to get it to your waist.

Women who have exceptionally long hair have exceptionally long growth spans for their hair. There is not much you can do about the hand dealt you by your genes.

Dr. Donohue regrets that he is unable to answer individual letters, but he will incorporate them in his column whenever possible.

Readers may write him or request an order form of available health newsletters at P.O. Box 536475, Orlando, FL 32853-6475.

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