Shoulder Pain – Calcific Tendonitis

Shoulder pain is one of the most common complaints that patients come to my office for on a daily basis. There are many causes of shoulder pain including: bursitis, rotator cuff tendonitis, rotator cuff tears, labral tears, fractures of the shoulder, adhesive capsulitis ( frozen shoulder ) and many others. In this post I am going to focus on calcific tendinitis of the shoulder.

Calcific tendinitis is a common painful condition of the shoulder that results from calcium deposits within the rotator cuff. The calcific material is actually calcium hydroxyapatite. The calcium hydroxyapatite can be present in as many as 10% of people that her asymptomatic, although approximately half of these people will become symptomatic or painful from the calcium deposit. This is a more common condition in women. It commonly occurs in patients between 30 and 60 years of age and can be in both shoulders. There is no known definite cause calcific tendinitis, but the res include degeneration of the rotator cuff, repetitive trauma and injury. Patients with diabetes and hypothyroidism may be at higher risk for the development of calcium deposits in the rotator cuff.

The symptoms can include pain which is often severe and constant, limited motion and difficulty with lifting and reaching away from the body or behind the back. Almost all patients have no history of injury to the shoulder. The symptoms often come on abruptly and the pain seems out of proportion to the lack of trauma. The pain is often on the outside part of the shoulder and can radiate down to the mid arm or lower. However, pain can be more diffuse and poorly localized. An x-ray is usually diagnostic and rarely is an MRI, CT scan or other imaging modality necessary to make the diagnosis. An MRI may be indicated when symptoms are not resolving with proper treatment to look for additional pathology such as a rotator cuff tear.

The symptoms can include pain which is often severe and constant, limited motion and difficulty with lifting and reaching away from the body or behind the back. Almost all patients have no history of injury to the shoulder. The symptoms often come on abruptly and the pain seems out of proportion to the lack of trauma. The pain is often on the outside part of the shoulder and can radiate down to the mid arm or lower. However, pain can be more diffuse and poorly localized. An x-ray is usually diagnostic and rarely is an MRI, CT scan or other imaging modality necessary to make the diagnosis. An MRI may be indicated when symptoms are not resolving with proper treatment to look for additional pathology such as a rotator cuff tear.

Treatment of calcific tendinitis includes rest from painful activities, anti-inflammatory medications such as Aleve or Advil or could be a prescribed anti-inflammatory. In addition, ice or and physical therapy/home exercises are often helpful. A cortisone or steroid injection into the shoulder can also be performed to ease pain and improve function. On occasion, more than one injection may be necessary over a several week period to alleviate symptoms. When these methods fail to resolve symptoms there are other methods to try and break up or dissolve the calcium deposit. The methods vary in invasiveness and include ultrasound-guided needle decompression/debridement, shockwave therapy, ultrasound-guided percutaneous micro debridement with a TENEX device and arthroscopic debridement of the calcium deposit. Most patients recover with the need for surgery, below is a video of a calcium deposit removal I performed arthroscopically.

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