Calcific Tendonitis

Georgia Hand, Shoulder, and Elbow

This article will discuss the causes, symptoms, diagnosis, and treatment options for calcific tendonitis. From the initial stages, where calcium deposits accumulate within the tendon, to the advanced stages, characterized by severe pain and limited mobility, we provide insights into how calcific tendonitis progresses and impacts shoulder function. 

For those seeking expert care for persistent shoulder pain, we encourage scheduling an appointment with Georgia Hand, Shoulder & Elbow in Marietta and Atlanta, Georgia today! Our dedicated team of orthopedic specialists stands ready to provide personalized treatment plans to help you regain comfort and mobility in your shoulders.

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What is Calcific Tendonitis?

Calcific tendonitis is a condition causing shoulder pain due to the buildup of calcium deposits in the tendons of the rotator cuff, the group of muscles and tendons that stabilize the shoulder joint. These deposits can cause severe pain and limit the range of motion in the shoulder.

The condition typically progresses through three stages:

  1. Pre-calcific stage: In this initial stage, the shoulder may experience mild discomfort or occasional pain. Calcium deposits have not yet formed, but the process leading to their formation has begun.
  2. Calcific stage: As the condition progresses, calcium deposits start to accumulate within the tendon, particularly in the supraspinatus tendon. This can lead to episodes of intense pain, often described as sharp or stabbing. Shoulder mobility may become significantly limited.
  3. Post-calcific stage: In this final stage, the calcium deposits may begin to dissolve or resorb naturally. However, this process can cause inflammation and further pain. Some individuals may develop a condition known as frozen shoulder, characterized by severe stiffness and reduced range of motion in the shoulder joint.

What Causes Calcific Tendonitis?

Calcific tendonitis occurs when calcium deposits build up in the tendons of the rotator cuff, the group of muscles and tendons that stabilize the shoulder joint. The exact cause of these deposits is not fully understood, but it’s believed to be related to repetitive stress or injury to the shoulder over time.

When the tendons undergo stress or injury, the body’s response is to try and repair the damaged tissue. Sometimes, instead of forming healthy tissue, calcium deposits accumulate within the tendon. These deposits can lead to inflammation and pain, causing the symptoms characteristic of calcific tendonitis.

While the precise reasons why this happens aren’t always clear, factors like overuse of the shoulder, poor posture, or aging may contribute to the development of calcific tendonitis. Seeking prompt medical attention and appropriate treatment can help manage symptoms and improve shoulder function.

What Are the Symptoms of Calcific Tendonitis?

Symptoms of calcific tendonitis include sudden shoulder pain, especially during movement or when lifting objects. The pain can be sharp and intense, often worsening over time. Other symptoms may include stiffness in the shoulder joint and difficulty raising the arm.

To distinguish calcific tendonitis from other shoulder conditions like a rotator cuff tear, consider the following:

  • Location of pain: In calcific tendonitis, the pain is typically focused on the outer part of the shoulder and may radiate down the arm. With a rotator cuff tear, the pain may be more widespread and can extend into the upper arm or neck.
  • Onset of symptoms: Calcific tendonitis often presents with sudden shoulder pain, especially during specific movements. Rotator cuff tears may also cause sudden pain, but they can develop gradually over time, particularly with repetitive activities.
  • Imaging tests: X-rays or ultrasound can reveal the presence of calcium deposits within the tendon, confirming calcific tendonitis. A rotator cuff tear may be identified through imaging as a gap or abnormality in the tendon.

If experiencing sudden shoulder pain or suspecting a shoulder injury, it’s essential to consult a healthcare professional for a proper diagnosis and appropriate treatment plan.

How is Calcific Tendonitis Diagnosed?

Diagnosing calcific tendonitis typically involves a combination of medical history, physical examination, and imaging tests.

  • Medical History: The doctor will ask about the onset and duration of symptoms, as well as any factors that may have contributed to shoulder pain, such as recent injuries or repetitive activities.
  • Physical Examination: The doctor will examine the shoulder for tenderness, swelling, and range of motion. They may also perform specific maneuvers to assess the integrity of the rotator cuff muscles and tendons.
  • Imaging Tests: X-rays are commonly used to visualize calcium deposits within the tendon. Ultrasound or MRI scans may also be ordered to provide detailed images of the shoulder structures and assess the extent of the condition.

By combining these diagnostic methods, healthcare professionals can accurately diagnose calcific tendonitis and develop an appropriate treatment plan to alleviate symptoms and improve shoulder function.

Treatment of Calcific Tendonitis

Calcific tendonitis can be treated in several ways to relieve pain and improve shoulder function:

  • Rest and Activity Modification: Resting the affected shoulder and avoiding activities that aggravate symptoms can help reduce pain and inflammation.
  • Pain Management: Over-the-counter pain relievers such as ibuprofen or acetaminophen can help alleviate discomfort associated with calcific tendonitis.
  • Physical Therapy: A structured program of stretching and strengthening exercises prescribed by a physical therapist can help improve shoulder mobility and strength while reducing pain.
  • Ultrasound-Guided Needle Aspiration: In some cases, a doctor may use ultrasound guidance to aspirate or remove the calcium deposit from the tendon, providing immediate relief of symptoms.
  • Corticosteroid Injections: Injecting corticosteroids into the affected area can help reduce inflammation and pain associated with calcific tendonitis.
  • Surgical Treatment: In an instance when you haven’t improved with other treatments, arthroscopic or minimally invasive camera-guided surgery may be recommended to alleviate your pain. Your surgeon can discuss this option with you in more detail.

These treatments aim to alleviate symptoms and promote healing of the affected tendon, allowing individuals to regain full shoulder function and resume their normal activities.

How Can I Prevent Calcific Tendonitis?

To prevent calcific tendonitis, individuals can adopt habits that promote shoulder health. This may include:

  • Maintain Good Posture: By keeping the shoulders aligned and avoiding slouching, individuals can reduce strain on the tendons.
  • Exercise Regularly: Regular exercise, particularly shoulder-strengthening exercises, helps maintain muscle strength and stability around the shoulder joint.
  • Avoid Overuse: Be mindful of repetitive activities that strain the shoulders, and take breaks to prevent overuse injuries.
  • Warm-Up and Stretch: Prior to engaging in physical activities, warm up the shoulder muscles with gentle movements and perform stretching exercises to improve flexibility.
  • Use Proper Technique: Whether lifting objects or participating in sports, using proper technique reduces the risk of injury to the shoulder tendons.

By incorporating these practices into daily routines, individuals can minimize the risk of developing calcific tendonitis and maintain healthy shoulder function.

Take Charge of Your Shoulder Health

Seeking early intervention and adopting preventive measures can significantly improve outcomes for individuals with calcific tendonitis. By understanding the symptoms and risk factors associated with this condition, individuals can take proactive steps to maintain shoulder health and minimize the likelihood of developing calcific tendonitis. 

If you’re experiencing persistent shoulder pain or limited mobility, don’t hesitate to seek help from a qualified orthopedic specialist. At Georgia Hand, Shoulder & Elbow in Marietta and Atlanta, Georgia, our team of experienced orthopedic surgeons and specialists is dedicated to providing comprehensive care and personalized treatment plans to help you regain comfort and mobility in your shoulders. 

Schedule an appointment today to start your journey towards better shoulder health and improved quality of life.

Medically reviewed by

Randall Alexander, MD

Hand & Orthopaedic Surgeon

Hand & Orthopaedic Surgeon

Hand & Plastic Surgeon

Hand & Orthopaedic Surgeon

Hand & Orthopaedic Surgeon

Hand & Orthopaedic Surgeon

Hand & Orthopaedic Surgeon

Hand & Orthopaedic Surgeon