Comparing Treatments for Calcium Deposits in Shoulder TendonsIontophoresis is a treatment used by physical therapists for various conditions. An electric current pushes ions through the skin and into the tissues underneath. One use of iontophoresis is for calcium deposits in the tendons around the shoulder. This condition is called calcific tendonitis.
Pain and loss of motion are the main symptoms of calcific tendonitis. Sometimes the calcium deposits go away without treatment. When they don't, patients often seek help. The usual treatment is with anti-inflammatory drugs. The drugs are taken by mouth or injected into the painful area. Other treatment includes physical therapy and, less often, surgery.
Doctors and physical therapists in Canada did a study on using iontophoresis to treat calcific tendonitis. They divided patients with this condition into two groups. One group had iontophoresis and physical therapy exercises for the shoulder. The second group had a placebo iontophoresis and the same exercises. Placebo means that the patients thought they were getting iontophoresis, but they really weren't.
The researchers report no difference in results between the two groups. Both got better. They also note that there's no way to know if the ion transfer really occurs across the skin into the tendons. Animal and human studies of this treatment haven't been able to show that it really happens.
The authors point out that many patients get better on their own without treatment. There's no way to know if those who improved would have gotten better without treatment anyway. They conclude the improvement in both groups was likely the result of physical therapy treatments, not the iontophoresis.
Bernard E. Leduc, MD, FRCPC, et al. Treatment of Calcifying Tendinitis of the Shoulder by Acetic Acid Iontophoresis: A Double-Blind Randomized Controlled Trial. In Archives of Physical Medicine and Rehabilitation. October 2003. Vol. 84. No. 10. Pp. 1523-1527.
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