When calcifications build up in the joints and tendons in the body, the painful inflammation can be treated by traditional and alternative methods.
What are Calcifications?
Excess calcium deposits can build up in the body. They are called calcifications. They can be found in arteries, the breasts, kidneys (kidney stones), muscles, lymph nodes, and in the joints. Most causes of calcifications in soft tissues are due to damage from infection, injury, autoimmune disorders, loss of blood flow, aging, and tumors. These deposits are mostly benign, except for certain types of cancer or atherosclerosis (clogged arteries in heart disease). Calcifications in tendons and joints could cause pain and limited movement, due to the inflammation. The calcium crystals can also erode cartilage. Calcium builds up in areas where there are damaged cells. Normal amounts of calcium consumption do not cause this. Overuse of supplements, such as vitamin D, which “increase calcium absorption into the blood” may cause high amounts of calcium in the blood (hypercalcemia). In time, this can lead to calcifications in the body.1 Synovial fluid and cartilage in the joints have calcium. This is normal, but when it crystallizes, those shards can damage the surface of the joint and allow enzymes to break the cartilage down. This is common in patients who are having knee surgery for osteoarthritis. The rotator cuff of the shoulder can also have calcifications. This is called calcific tendinitis. Injury or overuse of the shoulder may or may not be involved; however, it occurs when there is some cellular change or tissue damage. Inflammation causes pain and decreased range of motion.2 Patients may complain of the shoulder snapping, catching, or being stiff and weak. Lying on the shoulder, or raising the arm high, can cause more pain.3
Typical treatments for calcific tendinitis are moist heat, ice, physical therapy, and anti-inflammatory medications. At times, surgery will be recommended to break up and remove the tendon deposits.4 There is controversy over whether or not calcium dietary restrictions should be imposed. This would include milk, nuts, some vegetables, and calcium-fortified foods. Patients would be on this restricted diet for 3 months, to see if pain improves. Extracorporeal shockwave therapy (using soundwaves) has been found to have some success. Analgesics, NSAIDs, and corticosteroid injections have limited, temporary, results. Surgery, while effective, has risks and side effects, and arthroscopic and open shoulder surgeries are “difficult operations”.5
Gentle exercises can be helpful for patients with acute calcification. Acupuncture can also be beneficial for some patients. There are natural anti-inflammatory substances that patients may try, such as fish oil, bromelain, quercetin, Omega 3 fatty acids, turmeric, glucosamine-chondroitin, ginger, and others. Avoiding allergens and processed foods, and eating a healthy diet can all help minimize calcification.6 Sometimes calcium deposits will resolve after 1-4 weeks on their own. When the calcium deposits are being absorbed (the acute phase), the patients experience pain. The calcific deposit at that point has a “toothpaste-like consistency”. Treatment in the acute state of calcific tendinitis can come from chiropractors. Using a sling and icing would be recommended for home care. Chiropractic treatments should not include ART (Active Release Technique), the Graston Technique, or friction massage if the area is tender (in the acute phase). In the chronic phase, these techniques may be appropriate. The chronic phase of the disorder is when there is “localized tenderness at the anterior portion of the shoulder”, pain when sleeping on that side of the body, and the feeling of “catching upon shoulder elevation”.7
Find out more information regarding treating the rotator cuff.