One source of persistent shoulder pain is Calcific tendinitis, when tendons in the shoulder, or the rotator cuff, become inflamed. Usually it shows as soreness in the shoulders and periodically as pain that happens when you raise your arm over shoulder height.
While no solid cause for calcific tendinitis has been pinned down, blood levels of calcium indicate that it’s not excess calcium in the diet. If you’ve been diagnosed with the condition, don’t cut back on your calcium intake; it will just cause your body to scavenge the calcium from your bones to make up the lack (calcium is an important metabolic nutrient, not just what makes up your bones.)
Some have speculated that calcific tendinitis may be caused by a metabolic condition, or that those with kidney problems may be at greater risk of developing these types of calcium deposits. However, again, this is only a guess and not a definite diagnosed cause. It’s also known that overuse of the rotator cuff or injury does not cause calcific tendinitis, either.
You CAN develop rotator cuff tendinitis with overuse, which is tendinitis that occurs without calcium deposits in addition. The condition only shows up in those over the age of 30; whether this is because of metabolic changes in the late 20s or something else is still being investigated.
What are the symptoms of calcific tendinitis?
Calcific tendinitis can be asymptomatic – with no real impact as the calcium deposit grows. It’s only when the deposit starts to shed calcium flakes that inflammation and pain occur, particularly when they rub against the rotator cuff and the tendons that run through it.
Large flakes can cause the shoulder to ‘lock up’ when raised over the patient’s head. Where the symptoms show up is when the calcium deposit sheds crystals and flakes of calcium, which act like very small knives in the tendons, or like burrs, and cause inflammation as the body tries to break them down and reabsorb them.
Most times, the pain lasts for a week or two and the symptoms go away. The onset of symptoms can be sudden, and the recommendation is that you stretch and maintain your full range of motion. X rays will show if the shoulder pain you’re having is caused by calcific tendinitis. The calcium nodule will show up readily.
Treatment is typically icing the shoulder and anti-inflammatory drugs like Tylenol and aspirin. Range of motion exercises prevent a “frozen shoulder” incident. In some rare cases, your doctor may decide that it’s necessary to go invasive, and use a hypodermic needle and syringe to break up the calcium lump and remove the pieces.
In extreme cases, this may take an arthroscopic surgical procedure to do completely and remove all traces of it from the trauma site.