Background and methods: Although ultrasound therapy is used to treat calcific tendinitis of the shoulder, its efficacy has not been rigorously evaluated. We conducted a randomized, double-blind comparison of ultrasonography and sham insonation in patients with symptomatic calcific tendinitis verified by radiography. Patients were assigned to receive 24 15-minute sessions of either pulsed ultrasound (frequency, 0.89 MHz; intensity, 2.5 W per square centimeter; pulsed mode, 1:4) or an indistinguishable sham treatment to the area over the calcification. The first 15 treatments were given daily (five times per week), and the remainder were given three times a week for three weeks. Randomization was conducted according to shoulders rather than patients, so a patient with bilateral tendinitis might receive either or both therapies.
Results: We enrolled 63 consecutive patients (70 shoulders). Fifty-four patients (61 shoulders) completed the study. There were 32 shoulders in the ultrasound-treatment group and 29 in the sham-treatment group. After six weeks of treatment, calcium deposits had resolved in six shoulders (19 percent) in the ultrasound-treatment group and decreased by at least 50 percent in nine shoulders (28 percent), as compared with respective values of zero and three (10 percent) in the sham-treatment group (P=0.003). At the nine-month follow-up visit, calcium deposits had resolved in 13 shoulders (42 percent) in the ultrasound-treatment group and improved in 7 shoulders (23 percent), as compared with respective values of 2 (8 percent) and 3 (12 percent) in the sham-treatment group (P=0.002). At the end of treatment, patients who had received ultrasound treatment had greater decreases in pain and greater improvements in the quality of life than those who had received sham treatment; at nine months, the differences between the groups were no longer significant.
Conclusions: In patients with symptomatic calcific tendinitis of the shoulder, ultrasound treatment helps resolve calcifications and is associated with short-term clinical improvement.