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as a matter of fact, there is a special tool to take out heating elements. you will find this tool in the plumbing section right next to the replacement heating elements for your waterheaters.
Please see picture below for what this looks like:
This will cost you about 10 to 15 bucks at Home Depot or Lowe's.
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personally, I have never run into this problem. So in order for you to get the best answer possible using this site, I am going to opt out of this question to allow a more experienced expert deal with your specific problem. Good luck!