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What Are Calcium Deposits?

Mary McMahon
Updated Mar 03, 2024
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Calcium deposits are small buildups of calcium which can occur anywhere in the body, although they are especially common in the shoulder. The cause of calcium buildups is not fully understood, although doctors have come up with some theories, ranging from stress to vitamin deficiencies. Many of these deposits require no medical treatment, and in some cases they may even reabsorb back into the body. In some situations, however, it may be necessary to pursue treatment to deal with a calcium deposit.

These formations start out small and soft, growing and hardening slowly over time. People often notice calcium deposits because they grow large and hard enough to be felt through the skin, or because they put stress on surrounding tendons and muscles. The area around the calcification may also become inflamed as a result of irritation, causing the region to feel hot and sore. A large deposit can restrict freedom of movement by making it hard for someone to move a tendon or muscle comfortably.

If a calcium deposit begins to cause inflammation, injections of cortisone may be used at the site to bring the swelling down. Using ice packs to bring down swelling and inflammation can be recommended to help the patient cope with the pain caused by the buildup of calcium. If these measures do not work, or the patient experiences profound discomfort, it may be necessary to use surgery to take the calcium out of the affected area. The deposits do not usually regrow after removal.

Occasionally, calcium deposits develop in places which could be potentially dangerous or problematic. These deposits may interfere with the function of the body, or cause permanent damage as a result of straining or damaging surrounding soft tissue. In these situations, patients are usually advised to have surgery to remove the calcification, and the doctor may recommend additional follow up treatment to monitor the area for signs of recurrence, and to check for damage which may have been left behind.

Women appear to be more at risk for calcium deposits, and they are commonly associated with osteoporosis and aging. Because the cause of these formations is not fully understood, it is difficult to establish guidelines for people who want to prevent the formation of calcifications. However, eating a balanced diet and ensuring that the bones are supported with sufficient calcium and other minerals may help, and it certainly cannot hurt.

What Do Calcium Deposits Look Like?

Calcium deposits form in different areas of the body. Some are noticeable on the body's exterior, while others are only visible during surgery.

  • Under the Skin – Small white or yellow bumps under the top layer of skin are calcinosis cutis. This slow build-up of calcium creates small lumps under the skin. Chronic diseases such as lupus, rheumatoid arthritis, or scleroderma could contribute to this condition. These diseases cause cells to die and release protein that binds with phosphate, forming the lumps. The bumps often appear on the face, knees, elbows, and fingers. 
  • On Tendons – Calcium deposits on the tendons are not always visible to the naked eye. Doctors use X-rays, MRIs, and ultrasound images to better view the problem. The most common area where calcium builds up is in the shoulder, but deposits also form in the feet, hands, knees, hips, elbows, and wrists. On an X-ray, calcification is brighter than internal organs but not as prominent as bone. When surgeons remove the calcification, it may look dry similar to chalk dust or toothpaste.
  • In the Kidneys – When calcium builds up in the kidney, it can cause kidney stones. While these stones show up on X-rays or CT scans, kidney stones also pass through the bladder and might be large enough to see. A kidney stone looks like a small brown or cream-colored pebble. 
  • In the Breasts – A mammogram is similar to an X-ray that scans the inside breast tissue. Calcium deposits usually appear on a mammogram as small white dots, tiny white specks or large white dots. 
  • In blood vessels – Calcium can build up in the blood vessels in the heart and brain. This accumulation could block the normal flow of blood to these vital organs. Doctors use CT scans to detect and measure the amount of calcium in the vessels. Calcium appears as bright white areas within the soft tissues. When a doctor removes the plaque, it seems similar in color to the kidneys stones but shaped like the vessel the surgeon removed it from. 

Do Patients Know How To Remove Calcium Deposits From Arteries Naturally?

Some people may not realize that lifestyle changes are an effective way to decrease calcium deposits in the body. Some modifications that have proved successful are:

  • Limit salt consumption in food. High levels of sodium may cause increased blood pressure. This condition makes blood vessels weak and more susceptible to calcium build-up. 
  • Increase the number of green vegetables such as kale, Brussels sprouts, and broccoli. These foods have high levels of vitamin K, which could prevent calcium deposition in the arteries.
  • Stop smoking
  • Exercise burns fat and helps keep too much from staying in the blood for a long time, leading to plaque blockages. 
  • Eat more unsaturated fats, such as fatty fish, walnuts, and avocados. These fats increase the good cholesterol, or HDL, which helps counteract the bad cholesterol and prevent plaque and calcium build-up.

What Dissolves Calcium Deposits in the Body?

Doctors have various treatment options when patients want to remove calcium deposits from their bodies without surgery. One option is to use medications to help dissolve the hardened calcium. Some common drugs that might help are antacids, warfarin, calcium channel blockers, and corticosteroids.

Other treatment options may be available for patients who want to stay away from pharmaceuticals. Both laser therapy and electric iontophoresis can break apart calcium deposits. Doctors can also use sound waves to break up the stone painlessly, so your body reabsorbs it.

What Surgical Options Remove Calcium Deposits?

When other treatment options don’t remove the calcium deposit, patients may need to consider surgery. Doctors can remove a small skin deposit with a needle. They numb the area first, then use a needle to suck the calcium out.

A process called debridement is an arthroscopic surgery used for more extensive deposits on bones and tendons. Under general anesthesia, a surgeon cuts into the area surrounding the deposit and expresses out the calcium.

When calcium builds up in the heart’s arteries, blood doesn’t flow efficiently. Doctors can use a small catheter placed in the artery to break the blockage. A doctor often puts a stent into the artery to help keep it open.

Bypass surgery is often the last resort, as it is more invasive than other procedures. Doctors take healthy arteries from the leg and insert them into the heart as a way for blood to bypass the blocked or weakened heart artery. This makes a more efficient route for blood to pump through the heart.

Frequently Asked Questions

What is a calcium deposit?

A calcium deposit is a buildup of calcium salts in a specific area of the body. These deposits form when the body absorbs more calcium than it needs, and the excess is deposited in tissues, organs, and joints. Calcium deposits are most commonly found as kidney stones but can also form in other areas, such as the skin, muscles, blood vessels, and tendons. These deposits can be as small as a grain of sand or as large as a golf ball.

What are the causes of calcium deposits?

The most common cause of calcium deposits is a diet high in calcium and low in vitamin D. This combination can lead to the body absorbing too much calcium and depositing it in the body. Other causes include high levels of phosphorous, certain medications, dehydration, and certain medical conditions such as hyperparathyroidism and sarcoidosis.

What are the symptoms of calcium deposits?

Generally, calcium deposits don’t cause any symptoms, and many people don’t even know they have them. However, if a calcium deposit is large enough, it can cause pain, swelling, and stiffness in the affected area. In some cases, calcium deposits can also lead to other symptoms, such as fatigue, nausea, and vomiting.

Are calcium deposits dangerous?

Generally, calcium deposits are not dangerous. However, in some cases, they can cause serious health problems. For example, if calcium deposits form in the heart, they can cause chest pain, heart palpitations, and even an irregular heartbeat. Additionally, large calcium deposits can cause damage to the surrounding tissue.

How can calcium deposits be treated?

Treatment for calcium deposits depends on the size and location of the deposit. Small deposits may not require any treatment, but larger deposits may need to be surgically removed. In some cases, medications such as bisphosphonates or corticosteroids can be used to reduce the size of the deposit. Additionally, vitamin D supplements may be recommended to help reduce the risk of calcium deposits forming in the future.

The Health Board is dedicated to providing accurate and trustworthy information. We carefully select reputable sources and employ a rigorous fact-checking process to maintain the highest standards. To learn more about our commitment to accuracy, read our editorial process.
Mary McMahon
By Mary McMahon

Ever since she began contributing to the site several years ago, Mary has embraced the exciting challenge of being a The Health Board researcher and writer. Mary has a liberal arts degree from Goddard College and spends her free time reading, cooking, and exploring the great outdoors.

Discussion Comments

By anon1004861 — On May 04, 2021

Calcium deposits in the hip are very painful. Any input on this area?

By anon1001884 — On Jul 15, 2019

My calcium deposits are Located on the vulva (around my vagina). The doctor removed several recently (very painful). Suggestions for what I can do to make the incisions heal quicker?

By anon998050 — On Apr 05, 2017

What causes calcium deposits on your vocal cords?

By anon330323 — On Apr 15, 2013

I agree with malmal. It seems calcium deposits are built up due to having too much. I have two in between my nose and the inside of my eye.

By anon322272 — On Feb 26, 2013

I had calcium deposits and then was found to be vitamin d deficient. I was prescribed 50,000 iu of vitamin d2 twice a week. After two weeks the calcium deposits disappeared. I was shocked. Some had been there for years and they are just gone. I can't be sure the d2 caused it but I'm not taking anything else and all five deposits gone at the same time seems too coincidental. Kind of interesting.

By anon217925 — On Sep 27, 2011

Can a person get calcium deposits on fingernails?

I had synthetic nails and a few of my nails were slightly damaged near the cuticle as they were taken off. At least that's what I think happened. It looks like a bump at the cuticle and it goes all across the bottom of my cuticle. a few other nails have it too, but not all. Can you help me please? I wash my hands a lot. I was hoping it isn't nail fungi. It isn't discolored just a slight white near the base. Please help me. --L.G.

By TheGraham — On Jun 11, 2011

@gimbell - I'm not sure if your doctor already mentioned this or what, so I figured I would bring it up. Did you know that some people believe that arthritis is caused by calcium deposits?

From what I've read about the subject, calcium deposits in tendons grow large enough to make moving your hands or, in your case, feet, painful. It supposedly also weakens the muscle tendons themselves, and causes that familiar inflammation that arthritis is known for.

I know not everybody who has arthritis has calcium deposits, but maybe they just haven't had enough calcification for the deposits to form.

Just food for thought. Good to hear you've recovered from your own calcium heel problem and are back to walking!

By gimbell — On Jun 08, 2011

Boy do I hate calcium deposits. Let me tell you, if you think calcium deposits are bad by themselves, try arthritis and calcium deposits -- it's miserable! I had calcium deposits on both feet around the heel bones for awhile, and just walking around each day was an ordeal. I finally got surgery to have th calcium deposits removed, though, and thankfully it seems they're not going to return.

By hanley79 — On Jun 06, 2011

@Malka - If your sister went to a chiropractor, and they took x-rays of her back and spine around the shoulder area, they would notice any calcium deposits in shoulder bones in the x-rays. Since calcium deposits are made of something similar to our bones, I'll bet they show up on x-rays.

By Malka — On Jun 04, 2011

Hey, is it possible that what you think is a chiropractic type of problem might actually be caused by a calcium deposit? My sister has lots of pain and discomfort in her shoulders that just seems to have started up a year or so ago with no apparent reason for doing so. Is it possible for calcium deposits in shoulder bones to cause shoulder and back pain that won't go away? I mean, she tries to take her vitamins, but I wouldn't be surprised if she's calcium deficient, so it's a possibility, right?

By malmal — On Jun 02, 2011

Wait, so to prevent forming calcium deposits and to avoid needing surgeries for removing calcium deposits, you should take more calcium, not less? That doesn't make sense to me. That, and that if you are calcium deficient it can increase the risk of calcium deposits forming. Why not the other way around?

Mary McMahon

Mary McMahon

Ever since she began contributing to the site several years ago, Mary has embraced the exciting challenge of being a...

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