A minimally invasive procedure that uses ultrasound may bring quick relief to people with a common form of shoulder pain, a new study suggests.
The shoulder problem is known as rotator cuff calcific tendonitis, in which calcium deposits build up in the tendons of the shoulder, leading to pain and limited mobility in the joint.
Often people improve with conservative treatments, such as anti-inflammatory painkillers and physical therapy. When the pain is more severe and long-lasting, however, surgery to remove the calcium deposits may be recommended.
In the new study, published in the journal Radiology, Italian researchers looked at a less invasive way to accomplish the same goal using needles to dissolve and then extract the calcium deposits from the rotator cuff tendons.
Using ultrasound as a guide, the doctors injected saline into the affected joint to break up the calcium deposits, while a second needle immediately drew the dissolved calcium out. The procedure was done under local anesthesia and typically took 15 minutes.
Dr. Luca Sconfienza and his colleagues found that among the nearly 300 patients they followed, those who underwent the needle-guided ultrasound procedure had less pain and greater shoulder mobility 1 month later than those who declined to have the procedure.
The benefits were still apparent 1 year later, the researchers found - though by the 5- and 10-year marks, treated and untreated patients were functioning at about the same level.
That means if left untreated, the bothersome calcific tendonitis symptoms will eventually resolve in many people, according to Sconfienza, a radiologist at the University of Milan School of Medicine.
However, he told Reuters Health, a single, 15-minute needle procedure could make that relief come much more quickly.
“After 5 to 10 years, people recover also without treatment, but nobody is able to say exactly when it will happen,” Sconfienza said. “We think that there is no need to wait up to 10 years to cancel your shoulder pain when you can make it disappear in 15 minutes.”
Patients may have a hard time finding this treatment option, however, as it is not yet widely offered. In theory, the ultrasound needle procedure could be easily adopted, according to the researchers, since it can potentially be done in any hospital or clinic with the necessary ultrasound equipment.
SOURCE: Radiology, July 2009.