Shoulder Tendonitis

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Hard calcium deposit can form on soft tissue, in this case tendons of the rotator cuff in the shoulder. Once the calcium deposits are formed, the tendons may become inflamed and cause pain. This inflammation and pain is called shoulder calcific tendonitis. This condition usually develops over time. Symptoms typically do not appear until after the calcium has formed. Shoulder pain may be worse once the calcium deposit begins to be reabsorbed by the body.

This condition may be treatable. If you suspect you have this condition, contact your doctor.

Causes of Calcific Tendonitis of the Shoulder

The exact cause is unknown. The condition occurs most commonly from wear and tear of the shoulder. Aging also plays a part in its development. It is more common among people over age 40.

Shoulder Calcific Tendonitis: Risks

You are more likely to develop calcific tendonitis if you are:

  • Over age 40
  • Female

Symptoms of Shoulder Calcific Tendonitis

If you have any of these symptoms do not assume it is due to calcific tendonitis. These may be caused by other conditions. Tell your doctor if you have any of these:

  • Sudden onset of pain
  • Intense pain with shoulder movement
  • Stiffness of shoulder
  • Loss of shoulder range of motion
  • Pain that disrupts sleep
  • Tenderness over rotator cuff
  • Loss of muscle mass

Diagnosing Shoulder Calcific Tendonitis

Your doctor will ask about your symptoms and medical history. A physical exam will be done. You may be referred to a specialist. For example, an orthopedic surgeon specializes in bones.

Tests may include the following:

  • Thorough physical evaluation — assessing your shoulder range of motion and stability
  • X-ray — test that uses radiation waves to form a picture of the body’s structures; used to view calcium deposit(s)

Treating Calcific Tendonitis of the Shoulder

Most cases of calcific tendonitis resolve over time. Talk with your doctor about the best plan for you. Options include the following:

Medical Treatment

Your medical treatment plan will likely include:

  • Nonsteroidal antiinflammatory drugs (NSAIDs)
  • Rest
  • Heat and/or ice
  • Physical therapy to strengthen muscles
  • A steroid (such as cortisone) shot directly into your shoulder—might be used to decrease inflammation and pain

Physical Therapy

Your doctor may send you to a therapist for treatment. A therapist will use different treatments to decrease the pain and inflammation. Possible treatments include:

  • Ice
  • Heat
  • Ultrasound — a device that uses high energy sound waves to decrease pain in soft tissue
  • Transcutaneous electrical nerve stimulation (TENS) — used to decrease muscle stiffness or spasms

Once the symptoms have started to decrease, you will work with the therapist to strengthen your muscles and increase your range of motion.

Lavage Treatment

Lavage may help flush out the calcium deposits. A needle is placed directly into the shoulder. Normal saline is injected through the needle. The deposits are then broken up for removal.

Shock Wave Therapy

This therapy breaks up deposits by sending sound waves to the shoulder. The body can then reabsorb the smaller pieces. This should decrease symptoms.


In some cases, surgery may be done to remove deposits. The procedure is called arthroscopy. It uses small incisions and instruments to view the joint and remove the deposits.


Content was created using EBSCO’s Health Library. Edits to original content made by Rector and Visitors of the University of Virginia. This information is not a substitute for professional medical advice.