What Is Shockwave Therapy? Does It Hurt?
Updated: Nov 21, 2019
The use of shock waves to treat medical conditions originally started nearly four decades ago, after it was discovered capable of breaking down kidney stones without ever damaging any organs.
Today, the use of shock waves has extended to therapeutic and wellness applications. One that is getting a lot of traction in the past couple of years but is totally not new is Shockwave Therapy. Its growing popularity is largely attributed to the various benefits it brings to the table.
What Is Shockwave Therapy?
Shockwave Therapy is a non-invasive, non-surgical clinical procedure that uses acoustic waves mainly to relieve acute or chronic pain and speed up the healing process in affected tissues.
Shockwave Therapy is also known as Extracorporal Shockwave Therapy (ESWT). The therapy version of the shockwave treatment is often called Radial Shockwave Therapy (RSWT) to distinguish its use of low energy waves from other medical applications that use destructive high energy waves.
Shockwave Therapy has been proven to reduce pain and improve mobility after the first treatment. Its main goal, however, is to completely remove stubborn, chronic pain from myoskeletal tissues. It does not need any painkillers at all.
Shockwave Therapy can be used with other treatments such as Graston Technique and Medical Acupuncture. It is used across many disciplines, including chiropractic, sports medicine, orthopedics, urology, physiotherapy, and veterinary medicine, among others.
How Does Shockwave Therapy Work?
Shockwave Therapy works using radial shock waves or radial pressure waves. The waves are triggered by compressed air, which eventually converts into low energy acoustic waves.
The waves are then carried to myoskeletal tissues with acute and chronic pains via a contact gel. The contact gel (usually ultrasound gel, Vaseline, or castor oil) facilitates the effective transmission of shock waves to the affected tissue. The acoustic waves create microtrauma, stimulating the bones, tendons, and other soft tissues’ natural healing process.
There are four different ways to produce shock waves: spark discharge, piezoelectric, electromagnetic, and pneumatic or electrohydraulic. Each method varies in the level of energy content and has a distinct way of penetrating the human tissue.
In RSWT, the pneumatic system is used because it produces radial shock waves, often-characterized as soft, which are dispersive by nature.
What Are the Benefits of Shockwave Therapy?
Shockwave Therapy offers many benefits, as follows:
Non-invasive and Non-surgical: Shockwave Therapy is a non-invasive and non-surgical procedure. This means no instrument is inserted into your body, and no organ is cut open throughout the treatment.
No Pain Killers: As a non-invasive and non-surgical procedure, this therapy does not need any form of painkillers. No anesthesia involved at all.
Cost-effective: Shockwave Therapy has been proven effective for pain and mobility issues after initial treatment with a relatively low cost.
Effective for Acute Pain: While originally meant to treat chronic pain, this therapy is now proven to work on acute pain as well.
Mild Side Effects: Like many clinical procedures, Shockwave Therapy has side effects too. Fortunately, these side effects are mild, such as temporary soreness or swelling of treated areas, which may last for a couple of days only.
What Conditions Can Shockwave Therapy Treat?
Shockwave Therapy treats a range of indications, mostly concerning musculoskeletal conditions or those that involve connective tissues like tendons and ligaments. Most conditions are the result of sport, overuse, or repetitive strain. Some common conditions Shockwave Therapy treats include:
Calcifying tendinitis of shoulders
Plantar fasciitis (intense heel pain)
Myofascial pain syndrome (chronic soft tissue pain)
Medial tibial stress syndrome
What Does the Process Look Like?
First, your physiotherapist or chiropractor will locate the affected area through palpation. Second, your therapist or chiropractor will apply a good amount of contact gel or oil to the affected area. Third, your therapist or chiropractor will start using the applicator and push it lightly against the affected area.
Does Shockwave Therapy Hurt?
Shockwave Therapy may cause mild pain or no pain at all since it uses low energy shock waves only. Nonetheless, there may be a tinge of discomfort during the treatment, depending on the severity of the patient’s present condition.
Does Shockwave Therapy Really Work?
Shockwave Therapy works in two ways: firstly, to relieve pain and secondly, to heal musculoskeletal injuries. Many patients have reported that this therapy helped them solve their chronic pain problems after various unsuccessful types of treatments.
Does Shockwave Therapy Have any Side Effects?
Shockwave Therapy does have side effects, but nothing is to be worried about. After the treatment, you may experience short-term soreness or swelling for a few days. It is natural since the shock waves trigger an inflammatory response. Do not take any anti-inflammatory medication after treatment as it may slow down the healing process.
Is Shockwave Therapy Safe?
Yes, but take some precautions. If the injury is new, it’s more likely that the original inflammation is still there, and the shock waves could worsen it. Hence, it’s not advisable to use Shockwave Therapy for indications that have only been present for a few months.
Also, this therapy should not be used if you have a circulation or nerve disorder, bone tumor, or a metabolic bone condition. It should not be used for pregnant women who have any open wounds or tumors.
How Do I Get Started with?
Shockwave Therapy is not for everyone. Visit the nearest physiotherapist or chiropractor in your area to evaluate your present condition. Professional therapists and chiropractors will let you know what you can and cannot do for the duration of your treatment.
As for the frequency, it depends on your present condition, the intensity used with the treatment, and the results of treatment. Usually, the treatment may run once a week for 3 to 6 weeks.