calcific tendonitis

Calcium deposits form in the rotator cuff tendons at their insertion on the greater tuberosity and cause pain in the shoulder either due to impingement between the deposit(s) and the overlying acromium or due to the calcium itself—during the “painful” resorptive phase. This is a common condition occurring in about 3 percent of the population, and the highest incidence is in people aged 30 to 40 years (and occurs in both shoulders in about 15 percent of people).

The cause of this condition is UNKNOWN. The calcium formed does not relate to dietary intake of calcium but may be associated with a traumatic event.

Symptoms vary in severity and the condition is completely painless in most people. Some people can get shoulder pain with movements of the arm and occasionally night pain. Symptoms from this condition generally settle with little, if any, treatment. In over 90 percent of cases, the deposits disappear spontaneously (but this can take up to18 months.

A small percentage of people get acute, severe and unremitting pain. Fortunately when these symptoms occur, it usually means that the calcium is in the dissolving phase. The severe pain rarely lasts more than 72 hours. Patients with these symptoms require immobilisation of the shoulder in a sling, regular pain killers, ice over the tender area and occasionally injections of cortisone and anti-inflammatory tablets. Very rarely surgery is required. If you have these symptoms you are advised to be patient because after the severe symptoms settle, the residual mild symptoms rarely last more than 3 to 6 weeks.

On the occasions that the calcium does not absorb spontaneously and pain persists, then there is the option of arthroscopic (minimally invasive)removal--where I remove the calcium as well as trimming the acromion bone (acromioplasty ) which rubs on the rotator cuff with the calcium. New data suggests that the most favorable outcomes are associated with complete excision of the calcific deposit. Because rotator cuff repair may become necessary in this situation, it make take up to 6 months to recover from the surgery.

Remember, Calcium usually disappears spontaneously with time. Complete resolution of symptoms can take 12 to 18 months. The acute phase can be very painful but rarely lasts more than 72 hours and is treatable If symptoms are severe or resolution slow, then arthroscopic surgery is indicated.

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