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Calcific Tendinitis

Medically reviewed by Last updated on Aug 31, 2022.

What is calcific tendinitis?

Calcific tendinitis is a condition that occurs when calcium collects in the tendons of the shoulder. Tendons are bands of tissue that connect muscle to bone. The calcium can make the tendons swell and cause severe pain.

What increases my risk for calcific tendinitis?

There is no known cause of calcific tendinitis. The following may increase your risk:

  • Family history of calcific tendinitis
  • Age between 30 and 50 years
  • Female gender
  • Lack of physical activity
  • Medical conditions, such as diabetes

What are the signs and symptoms of calcific tendinitis?

Signs and symptoms may be sudden and severe, lasting several weeks. Symptoms can also be mild and last several months.

  • Pain in your shoulder that may spread to your neck
  • Trouble sleeping because of pain
  • Stiffness or weakness in your arm or shoulder
  • Decreased arm movement

How is calcific tendinitis diagnosed?

Your healthcare provider will check how well you can move your shoulder and arm. He or she may check the function of your elbow, wrist, and hand. He or she may compare the movement and strength of your painful shoulder against your healthy shoulder. You may also need the following tests:

  • An x-ray may show calcium buildup in your shoulder.
  • An ultrasound uses sound waves to show pictures on a monitor. An ultrasound may be done to show the cause of your pain.
  • An MRI takes pictures of your shoulder. An MRI may show calcium in your shoulder or another cause of your pain. You may be given dye to help the parts of your shoulder show up better in the pictures. Tell the healthcare provider if you have ever had an allergic reaction to contrast dye. Do not enter the MRI room with anything metal. Metal can cause serious injury. Tell the healthcare provider if you have any metal in or on your body.

How is calcific tendinitis treated?

Calcific tendinitis may go away on its own. The body absorbs the calcium, and the tendon heals. You may need any of the following:

  • Medicines:
    • NSAIDs may decrease swelling and pain. This medicine can be bought with or without a doctor's order. This medicine can cause stomach bleeding or kidney problems in certain people. If you take blood thinner medicine, always ask your healthcare provider if NSAIDs are safe for you. Always read the medicine label and follow the directions on it before using this medicine.
    • Steroids help decrease inflammation. You may be given steroids as a pill or a shot in your shoulder.
  • Needling is a procedure used to break up the calcium or remove it. Your healthcare provider inserts one or more needles through your skin and into your shoulder.
  • Extracorporeal shockwave therapy (ESWT) uses sound waves aimed at the calcium to help break it up. The pieces of calcium are then absorbed back into the body. ESWT may be done if symptoms last 3 months or longer.
  • Surgery may be needed to remove the calcium if you have severe pain for several months and other treatments have not helped. Damaged tissue or bone may also be removed.

Treatment options

The following list of medications are in some way related to or used in the treatment of this condition.

View more treatment options

How can I manage my symptoms?

  • Go to physical therapy. A physical therapist can teach you exercises to help improve movement and strength, and to decrease pain.
  • Apply ice on your shoulder for 15 to 20 minutes every hour or as directed. Use an ice pack, or put crushed ice in a plastic bag. Cover it with a towel. Ice helps prevent tissue damage and decreases swelling and pain.
  • Apply heat on your shoulder for 20 to 30 minutes every 2 hours for as many days as directed. Heat helps decrease pain and muscle spasms.
  • Rest your arm. Healthcare providers may have you place an item, such as a ball, between your side and elbow while you rest. This may help decrease stiffness and pain.

When should I contact my healthcare provider?

  • You have worse pain and stiffness in your shoulder.
  • You have new or more trouble moving your arm.
  • You have questions or concerns about your condition or care.

When should I seek immediate care or call 911?

  • You cannot move your arm.
  • You have severe pain in your arm or shoulder.

Care Agreement

You have the right to help plan your care. Learn about your health condition and how it may be treated. Discuss treatment options with your healthcare providers to decide what care you want to receive. You always have the right to refuse treatment. The above information is an educational aid only. It is not intended as medical advice for individual conditions or treatments. Talk to your doctor, nurse or pharmacist before following any medical regimen to see if it is safe and effective for you.

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