Shockwave therapy is used across a wide range of medical disciplines including physiotherapy, sports medicine and orthopedics. It even has applications in veterinary medicine. Partly because of its versatility, it has grown in usage over the past couple of decades.
This form of therapy is also known as extracorporeal shock wave therapy or ESWT
In this article, we will provide a description of what shockwave therapy is and how it works. We will then briefly move on to enumerate the growing number of conditions to which it is applied. Finally, we will describe its advantages as well as some of the currently known risks and contraindications.
As always, we wish to emphasize that those considering a course of shockwave therapy treatment should first discuss this decision with a doctor.
What Shockwave Therapy Is & How It Works
A shockwave is essentially a high energy sound wave. ESWT consists of applying this wave to damaged myoskeletal (connective) tissues as well as painful areas of the body. For physiotherapy applications, lower energy waves are typically employed.
A gel medium is used to help the waves penetrate the patient’s skin and reach the injured tissues.
The ESWT practitioner hopes that the energy carried by the wave will help to regenerate and repair damaged bones, muscles, ligaments or tendons.
ESWT is also believed to improve blood flow through the damaged tissues. By so doing, supporters believe that it helps accelerate the natural healing process. This belief is based on the fact that a fresh supply of blood carries oxygen and many other nutrients essential to the healing process.
Probably the key property that distinguishes a shockwave from a normal acoustic wave is that the pressure of the wave changes in a “jump” pattern. It is also high in amplitude and non periodic. Supporters of shockwave therapy treatment believe that these properties are what gives this therapy its unique healing capabilities.
Shockwave Therapy Treatment Sessions
Like many other forms of treatment, your first ESWT treatment session will involve an assessment of your injury by the practitioner. The goal will be to determine whether shockwave treatment is appropriate for your situation.
If ESWT is determined to be an appropriate therapy, treatment sessions will probably be scheduled for once weekly and may last for between 3 and 6 weeks.
Each treatment may last for as little as 4-5 minutes. During the session, you may experience some mild discomfort but actual pain is unlikely. If the discomfort is excessive, you can always ask your practitioner about the possibility of adjusting treatment sensitivity to make the sessions more tolerable.
For Which Conditions Is ESWT Used?
It is used for several repetitive stress and other injuries, including:
In general, ESWT appears to yield benefits in situations in which chronic overuse injuries have proved resistant to other forms of treatment.
Advantages Of Shockwave Therapy
Some of the advantages of ESWT as perceived by its adherents include:
It is non invasive;
It is a form of natural healing. Unlike prescription or OTC painkillers, it does not carry the risk of pharmaceutical side effects;
It is non addictive;
It is unlikely to interact with other treatments that you may be pursuing concurrently.
In summary, ESWT supporters believe that shockwave treatment harnesses the body’s natural healing processes. It forgoes the artificial interventions that are involved when we use pharmacological drugs or a surgical approach to pain or injury treatment.
Risks & Contraindications
ESWT may not be an appropriate option if you suffer from any of the following:
Blood circulation disorders;
If you use blood thinning medications;
Any condition that compromises nerve function;
Bone problems including tumors;
If you have any open wounds;
Pregnant women should also avoid ESWT.
If you fall into any of the above categories, you should, at a minimum, seek medical advice before starting ESWT treatments.