What is Calcific Tendonitis? A Comprehensive Overview

What is Calcific Tendonitis. In today’s fast-paced world, knowledge about common medical conditions isn’t just reserved for medical professionals. Everyone can benefit from understanding the health issues that could potentially affect them or their loved ones. This is not just about knowing a name or identifying a symptom but truly grasping the condition’s essence, its prevalence, and its impact on daily life.

What is Calcific Tendonitis

Calcific tendonitis, though perhaps not as widely recognized as conditions like arthritis or osteoporosis, is more common than many realize. It can be a significant source of pain and discomfort, affecting one’s ability to perform everyday tasks. The prevalence of calcific tendonitis, especially among certain age groups and demographics, underscores the importance of understanding it. Recognizing its symptoms early can lead to more effective interventions and better outcomes for those affected. OA knee pain treatment

As we delve into this comprehensive overview, we aim to shed light on the intricate details of calcific tendonitis, providing readers with a clear picture of its causes, symptoms, treatments, and much more. It’s an endeavor to empower you with knowledge and, possibly, to promote a proactive approach to your health and well-being.

Calcific Tendonitis

Calcific tendonitis is a specific type of tendonitis where calcium deposits form in the tendons. These calcium deposits can cause inflammation and pain. While this condition can occur in any tendon, it is most frequently found in the rotator cuff tendons of the shoulder.

Differences from other forms of Tendonitis:

What is Calcific Tendonitis? A Comprehensive Overview

1. Nature of Inflammation: In calcific tendonitis, the inflammation and pain are often caused by calcium deposits within the tendons, whereas in other forms of tendonitis, inflammation may result from mechanical strain or other injuries.

2. Imaging Findings: On imaging studies like X-rays, the calcium deposits are visible in cases of calcific tendonitis, which are not present in other forms of tendonitis.

3. Stages of Disease: Calcific tendonitis has specific stages, starting with the pre-calcific stage, then the formative, resting, resorptive, and post-calcific stages. Each stage has its own set of symptoms and physical findings.

4. Treatment: While both conditions can benefit from rest, ice, and anti-inflammatory medications, calcific tendonitis may sometimes require additional treatments to address the calcium deposits, such as shock wave therapy or even surgical removal in extreme cases.

Tendon Structure and Function

Tendons are like the body’s natural cables. They’re made up of many strong, tiny fibers bundled together, and they work as connectors between our muscles and bones.


  • Collagen: This is the main protein in tendons. It’s tough and a bit stretchy, giving tendons their strength and flexibility.
  • Tenocytes: These are the cells in tendons that produce collagen.
  • Ground substance: This is a gel-like material that surrounds the collagen fibers. It provides nutrients to the tendon cells and helps with movement and flexibility.

When muscles contract (or tighten), they pull on the tendons, which then pull on the bones. This is how we move our arms, legs, and other body parts.


  • Movement: Tendons allow us to move by transmitting the force from muscles to bones.
  • Stability: They provide stability to our joints by ensuring that the muscles pull on the bones in the right direction.

Calcific Tendonitis and its Common Locations

Calcific tendonitis is when small deposits of calcium, kind of like hard little grains, form inside the tendons. Imagine having tiny sand grains inside a cable; it can make the cable sore and less flexible.

The most common place for calcific tendonitis to occur is in the rotator cuff tendons of the shoulder. Here’s a bit more about that:

Rotator Cuff: This is a group of four muscles and their tendons in the shoulder. They work together to let us lift and rotate our arms. The names of these muscles are supraspinatus, infraspinatus, teres minor, and subscapularis.

The rotator cuff is crucial for many daily activities, from brushing our hair to reaching for something on a shelf. Because of its frequent use and the delicate balance of these muscles and tendons, the rotator cuff is more susceptible to injuries, including calcific tendonitis.

Causes and Pathophysiology

Calcific tendonitis, while common, is a condition whose exact causes and mechanisms are not entirely understood. However, scientists and doctors have studied it closely and have some theories about how and why these calcium deposits form in the tendons.

Process of Calcium Deposit Formation:

What is Calcific Tendonitis? A Comprehensive Overview

1. Pre-Calcific Stage: This is the initial phase. The cells within the tendon (called tenocytes) start to undergo changes. These cells begin to act like other types of cells, called chondrocytes, that are usually found in cartilage.

2. Calcific Stage:

  • Formative Phase: The changed cells (now more like chondrocytes) start producing calcium, leading to the formation of calcium deposits within the tendon.
  • Resting Phase: Once the calcium deposits are formed, they stay in place without much change for some time.
  • Resorptive Phase: The body starts recognizing these calcium deposits as foreign bodies. This triggers an inflammatory response. As a result, special cells called phagocytes come to the area and begin “eating” or breaking down the calcium deposits. This phase can be painful because of the inflammation and pressure on the tendon.

3. Post-Calcific Stage: Once the calcium deposits are cleared, the tendon starts to heal. Normal tendon cells replace the area where the calcium deposits used to be, and the tendon returns to its normal state over time.

Theories Behind Calcification:

While the exact cause is still under research, several theories try to explain the reason for the calcification:

1. Cellular Changes: As mentioned earlier, the tendon cells, or tenocytes, start behaving differently and become more like cartilage cells. This might be due to aging, micro-injuries, or genetic factors.

2. Oxygen Supply: The tendons have a limited blood supply. If this supply is decreased further due to any reason (like minor repetitive injuries), it might lead to decreased oxygen to the tendons. This lack of oxygen can trigger the tendon cells to change and lead to calcium buildup.

3. Genetic Factors: Some studies suggest that genetics might make some people more prone to developing calcific tendonitis.

4. Metabolic Factors: Conditions like diabetes, thyroid disorders, or abnormalities in how the body processes minerals can influence calcium deposition in soft tissues.

Risk Factors

Certain factors make it more likely for an individual to develop calcific tendonitis. By understanding these risk factors, one can be more aware of the potential onset of the condition and take precautionary measures.


1. Age: Calcific tendonitis is more common in middle-aged adults, particularly those between 30 and 60 years of age. The wear and tear on tendons over the years can make them more susceptible to calcification.

2. Gender: Some studies suggest that women are slightly more likely to develop this condition than men, though the exact reason for this disparity is not entirely understood.

Lifestyle Factors:

1. Physical Activities: Engaging in sports or activities that require repetitive arm movements or put strain on the shoulder—like tennis, baseball, or weightlifting—can increase the risk. Such activities might lead to minor injuries in the tendon, which over time can result in calcification.

2. Occupations: Jobs that involve repetitive overhead arm movements or heavy lifting, such as painting, construction, or certain types of manual labor, can make someone more prone to develop calcific tendonitis.

Genetic and Hereditary Factors:

Family History: Individuals with a family history of calcific tendonitis or other related tendon disorders might have a higher risk, suggesting a possible genetic component.

Previous Injuries or Medical Conditions:

1. Previous Tendon Injuries: Having had injuries to the tendon in the past, even if they have healed, can make it more vulnerable to future issues, including calcification.

2. Medical Conditions: Conditions that affect the body’s metabolism of minerals, like calcium, can contribute to calcific tendonitis. This includes conditions like diabetes, gout, and certain thyroid disorders. Also, individuals with kidney conditions that lead to irregular calcium and phosphate metabolism may be at risk.

3. Inflammatory Disorders: Diseases like rheumatoid arthritis that cause inflammation in joints and tendons can also be a potential risk factor.

Symptoms and Clinical Presentation

When a person develops calcific tendonitis, it manifests through certain signs and symptoms. Understanding these can aid in early diagnosis and effective treatment.

Common Symptoms Patients Report:

1. Pain: The most common symptom is pain in the affected area. For example, if it’s in the rotator cuff tendons of the shoulder, patients might experience shoulder pain. This pain can be sharp or dull and might intensify with movement.

2. Limited Range of Motion: Patients may find it difficult to move the affected joint as freely as before. They may struggle with tasks like reaching overhead or behind the back.

3. Stiffness: The affected joint can feel stiff, especially after periods of rest or upon waking up in the morning.

4. Tenderness: The area over the tendon may be sensitive to touch.

5. Swelling or Warmth: The affected area might appear slightly swollen or feel warm due to inflammation.

How Symptoms Can Vary Among Individuals:

The exact reason for these calcium deposits is still under investigation, but the condition is known to be more prevalent in middle-aged individuals, particularly women (2). While the above symptoms are common, the severity and exact presentation can vary widely:

  • Some individuals might have significant calcium deposits but experience little to no pain.
  • Others might have minimal calcification but intense pain and stiffness.
  • The onset can be sudden for some, with acute and sharp pain, while others might experience a slow, gradual increase in symptoms over time.

Progression of Symptoms Over Time:

The symptoms of calcific tendonitis can evolve as the condition goes through its stages:

1. Pre-Calcific Stage: There might be minimal or no symptoms during this phase, even though cellular changes are happening in the tendon.

2. Calcific Stage:

  • Formative Phase: As calcium begins to accumulate, some may start to experience mild discomfort or pain.
  • Resting Phase: The pain might stabilize during this phase.
  • Resorptive Phase: This phase is characterized by the body initiating an inflammatory response to resorb the calcium deposits, making it the most painful stage (1). The area becomes red, swollen, and painful.

3. Post-Calcific Stage: As the calcium deposits decrease and the tendon heals, the pain and other symptoms generally diminish. The tendon begins its repair, and over time, most patients experience a return to normal function.

Diagnostic Procedures

When someone presents with symptoms that suggest calcific tendonitis, healthcare professionals have several tools and methods to diagnose the condition accurately. Accurate diagnosis is essential for effective treatment and to rule out other potential causes of pain and discomfort.

Physical Examination Findings:

What is Calcific Tendonitis? A Comprehensive Overview

A comprehensive physical exam will often be the first step:

1. Palpation: The doctor will press or touch the area around the painful tendon to determine the exact location of tenderness and to feel for any swelling or warmth.

2. Range of Motion Test: By asking the patient to move the affected joint in various directions, the doctor can assess any limitations in movement or if particular motions provoke pain.

3. Strength Testing: This can help identify any weakening of the muscle connected to the affected tendon.

Imaging Studies:

1. X-ray: This is one of the primary tools to detect calcium deposits. The calcium shows up as white patches on the X-ray, indicating its location and extent.

2. MRI (Magnetic Resonance Imaging): While X-rays are great for visualizing bone and calcium, an MRI provides detailed images of soft tissues, including tendons. It can show the size and location of calcium deposits, and if there’s any damage to the surrounding soft tissue structures.

3. Ultrasound: This is another imaging technique that uses sound waves to create images of the inside of the body. Ultrasound can visualize calcium deposits and the condition of the tendon, and it has the added advantage of being a dynamic test, meaning it can be used to see the tendon in motion.

Importance of Differential Diagnosis:

Distinguishing calcific tendonitis from other causes of shoulder pain, such as rotator cuff tears, impingement syndrome, and arthritis, is crucial (3).

Differential diagnosis is crucial because several other conditions can mimic the symptoms of calcific tendonitis:

  • Rotator cuff tears: These can cause shoulder pain and weakness similar to calcific tendonitis.
  • Frozen shoulder (adhesive capsulitis): This can cause pain and a limited range of motion in the shoulder.
  • Arthritis: Osteoarthritis or rheumatoid arthritis can also present with joint pain and stiffness.
  • Other types of tendonitis: Not all tendonitis is calcific. There are other forms that can cause similar symptoms.

Impact on Daily Life and Activities:

Calcific tendonitis can profoundly impact an individual’s daily life and activities. The associated pain and restricted range of motion can limit one’s ability to reach overhead, lift objects, and engage in routine activities like dressing, bathing, or driving. The persistent pain can also influence sleep patterns and, over time, may contribute to psychological distress or depression due to reduced activity levels and chronic discomfort (1).

1. Activities of Daily Living: Simple tasks like dressing, bathing, or preparing meals can become challenging due to pain and limited mobility, affecting an individual’s independence.

2. Work Limitations: People with occupations that require lifting, repetitive movements, or use of the affected joint may find it hard to perform their job effectively. This can have implications for job retention or satisfaction.

3. Recreational Activities: Hobbies like sports, gardening, or even just taking a walk can become painful, leading to decreased participation and enjoyment.

4. Sleep Disruptions: Persistent pain can make it difficult to find a comfortable sleeping position, leading to disrupted sleep and fatigue.

5. Emotional and Psychological Impact: Chronic pain and limited mobility can affect one’s mental well-being, potentially leading to feelings of frustration, depression, or anxiety.

Current Treatment Modalities

Managing calcific tendonitis involves a variety of treatment approaches, tailored to the patient’s specific needs and the severity of the condition. Both non-surgical and surgical treatments can be effective depending on the situation.

Non-surgical Treatments:

Physical Therapy:

What is Calcific Tendonitis? A Comprehensive Overview
  • Purpose: Helps improve range of motion, strengthen the muscles around the affected tendon, and alleviate pain.
  • Methods: Incorporates a blend of passive and active exercises, modalities to reduce pain and inflammation, and strategies to prevent recurrence (4). Supervised exercises tailored to the individual’s needs have been shown to improve outcomes.


  • Anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs): Drugs such as ibuprofen and naproxen can help manage pain and inflammation, offering temporary relief (5).
  • Pain relievers: Acetaminophen (like Tylenol) can be used to alleviate pain.

Corticosteroid Injections: Directly injected into the affected area. These can alleviate inflammation, especially during acute painful episodes. However, repeated injections can lead to potential tendon weakening and should be administered judiciously (2).

Shock Wave Therapy:

Extracorporeal shock wave therapy (ESWT) has been employed as a non-invasive treatment modality. Several studies suggest that ESWT can promote the resorption of calcium deposits and alleviate pain (6).

Surgical Options:

Surgery is typically considered when non-surgical treatments fail to provide relief after a significant period, or if the condition is severely affecting quality of life.

Percutaneous Needle Tenotomy:

  • Procedure: A needle is inserted into the calcium deposit, and saline is used to “wash out” or dissolve the deposit. The procedure often provides immediate relief and can be combined with a corticosteroid injection to manage inflammation (7).
  • Recovery: Less invasive than open surgery, allowing for a faster recovery.

Open Surgery:

  • Reserved for cases resistant to non-surgical interventions.
  • Involves the direct removal of calcium deposits and might be accompanied by other procedures to address associated conditions, such as subacromial decompression or rotator cuff repair if needed (8).


Calcific tendonitis, though perhaps not as widely recognized as some other musculoskeletal conditions, is of significant importance due to the pain and functional limitations it can impose on affected individuals. Awareness and understanding of this condition can pave the way for timely interventions, better management, and potentially quicker recovery.

A comprehensive grasp of its causes, risk factors, symptoms, diagnostic procedures, and treatment modalities empowers individuals to recognize early signs and symptoms, facilitating timely medical intervention. Furthermore, understanding preventive measures and management strategies provides a roadmap to potentially decrease its incidence and ensure healthier, more mobile lives.

However, while education is invaluable, it is no substitute for professional advice. Every individual’s situation can be unique, and personal medical histories, physical conditions, and other factors can influence the best course of action. Thus, if there’s any concern about calcific tendonitis or any other health issue, it is crucial to consult with a healthcare professional. Their expertise can guide individuals toward the best choices for their specific circumstances, ensuring the highest chances for optimal health outcomes.


1. What is calcific tendonitis?

Answer: Calcific tendonitis is a condition where calcium deposits form within the tendons, most commonly in the shoulder’s rotator cuff tendons. These deposits can cause inflammation and pain.

2. What causes calcific tendonitis?

Answer: The exact cause remains unclear, but it’s believed to be a natural aging process. Factors such as genetics, metabolic disorders, and repetitive minor injuries to the tendon might also contribute.

3. Is calcific tendonitis the same as arthritis?

Answer: No. While both involve pain and inflammation in joints, calcific tendonitis is specific to tendons and involves calcium deposits, while arthritis affects the joints and involves joint degeneration or inflammation.

4. What are the symptoms of calcific tendonitis?

Answer: Common symptoms include pain in the shoulder, particularly with movement, limited range of motion, pain at night, and sometimes swelling or redness over the shoulder.

5. How is calcific tendonitis diagnosed?

Answer: The condition is diagnosed through physical examinations and imaging studies, including X-rays, which can identify calcium deposits, and sometimes ultrasound or MRI.

6. Are there non-surgical treatments available for calcific tendonitis?

Answer: Yes, many individuals benefit from non-surgical treatments, including physical therapy, medications (like NSAIDs), corticosteroid injections, and shock wave therapy.

7. When is surgery required for calcific tendonitis?

Answer: Surgery is considered when non-surgical treatments fail to provide relief. Common surgical procedures include percutaneous needle tenotomy and open surgery to remove the calcium deposits.

8. Can calcific tendonitis return after treatment?

Answer: While treatment, especially surgical removal of calcium deposits, significantly reduces the chance of recurrence, it’s still possible for the condition to return or develop in another tendon.

9. Who is at risk of developing calcific tendonitis?

Answer: Middle-aged individuals and women are more commonly affected. However, anyone can develop the condition, especially with a history of shoulder injuries or overuse.

10. How can I prevent calcific tendonitis?

Answer: While there’s no guaranteed prevention method, maintaining shoulder strength and flexibility through regular exercises and avoiding repetitive shoulder strain can reduce the risk.


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  1. Harvie, P., Pollard, T.C. and Carr, A.J., 2007. Calcific tendinitis: natural history and association with endocrine disorders. Journal of Shoulder and Elbow Surgery, 16(2), pp.169-173. https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S1058274606001923
  1. Mavrikakis, M.E., Drimis, S., Kontoyannis, D.A., Rasidakis, A., Moulopoulou, E.S. and Kontoyannis, S., 1989. Calcific shoulder periarthritis (tendinitis) in adult onset diabetes mellitus: a controlled study. Annals of the rheumatic diseases, 48(3), pp.211-214. https://ard.bmj.com/content/48/3/211.short
  1. Louwerens, J.K., Sierevelt, I.N., van Noort, A. and van den Bekerom, M.P., 2014. Evidence for minimally invasive therapies in the management of chronic calcific tendinopathy of the rotator cuff: a systematic review and meta-analysis. Journal of Shoulder and Elbow Surgery, 23(8), pp.1240-1249. https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S1058274614001104
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  1. Hsu, C.J., Wang, D.Y., Tseng, K.F., Fong, Y.C., Hsu, H.C. and Jim, Y.F., 2008. Extracorporeal shock wave therapy for calcifying tendinitis of the shoulder. Journal of shoulder and elbow surgery, 17(1), pp.55-59. https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S1058274607003989
  1. Serafini, G., Sconfienza, L.M., Lacelli, F., Silvestri, E., Aliprandi, A. and Sardanelli, F., 2009. Rotator cuff calcific tendonitis: short-term and 10-year outcomes after two-needle US-guided percutaneous treatment—nonrandomized controlled trial. Radiology, 252(1), pp.157-164. https://pubs.rsna.org/doi/abs/10.1148/radiol.2521081816
  1. Balke, M., Bielefeld, R., Schmidt, C., Dedy, N. and Liem, D., 2012. Calcifying tendinitis of the shoulder: midterm results after arthroscopic treatment. The American journal of sports medicine, 40(3), pp.657-661.https://journals.sagepub.com/doi/abs/10.1177/0363546511430202
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