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What is shockwave therapy and how does it help?

Injuries can be both painful and debilitating. One minute you are actively participating in sport, doing some gardening or even just walking, but the next you are in pain and unable to move. Pain relief can help mitigate the symptoms, but does not help to heal and repair the injured joints, muscles, tendons, and ligaments.

What if there was a proven, non-invasive treatment that could help you recover? Something that had been used for nearly thirty years, with a large volume of scientific data to show its effectiveness? A therapy that could be delivered on an outpatient basis that gives significant or total relief of pain in the majority of patients.

Well, there is! Welcome to Shockwave therapy!

What is shockwave therapy?

Shockwave therapy, also known as Extracorporeal Shockwave Therapy (ESWT) or Radial Shockwave Therapy (RSWT) is a non-surgical treatment that targets damaged tissues within an abnormal or damaged tendon. Using targeted sonic ‘shockwaves’, the treatment was originally designed for eliminating kidney stones without causing skin injury, nearly 25 years ago. Whilst popular in Europe, Shockwave therapy is a relatively novel treatment for musculoskeletal issues in the UK.

How does shockwave therapy work?

Despite what you might conclude from the name, Shockwave therapy uses directed low energy sound waves, rather than electrical waves. These waves radiate through the skin and into the affected muscle, joint or tendon, stimulating blood flow to the area. The combined effect is to create a small amount of localised inflammation. Your body reacts naturally to the inflammation and in doing so, stimulates the repair and regeneration of cells around the injury, as well as reducing pain. Shockwave therapy also helps to break down scar tissue, which can help increase mobility.

Does shockwave therapy really work?

Shockwave therapy works! The National Institute for Health and Care Excellence (NICE) has approved guidelines for its application for the treatment of various tendon-based injuries. Many other scientific papers report the effectiveness of ESWT.

A study of 384 patients, suffering from a tendinopathy, published in the US National Center for Biotechnology Information, concluded:

“The pain reduction and the improvement of functionality and quality of life after shockwave treatment increased by at least two points on the five-point Likert scale both post-treatment.”

“Shockwave therapy significantly reduced the pain that accompanies tendinopathies and improves functionality and quality of life. It might be first choice because of its effectiveness and safety.”

A 2012 meta review of studies which examined extracorporeal shockwave therapy in musculoskeletal disorders, published in the Journal of Orthopaedic Surgery and Research, concluded:

“The success rate ranged from 65% to 91%, and the complications were low and negligible.”

“The vast majority of the published papers showed positive and beneficial effects.”

“ESWT is a novel non-invasive therapeutic modality without surgery or surgical risks, and the clinical application of ESWT steadily increases over the years.”

The evidence is clear, Shockwave therapy works!

What conditions are shockwave therapy used for?

Shockwave therapy is an effective treatment for a variety of musculoskeletal conditions. Most commonly these include:

  • Plantar fasciitis
  • Calcific tendinopathy
  • Tennis and Golfer’s elbow
  • Shoulder pain
  • Proximal Hamstring Tendinopathy
  • Patella tendinopathy
  • Achilles tendinopathy
Women holding elbow in pain

Is shockwave therapy suitable for everyone?

Whilst Shockwave therapy is suitable for most people, there are some cases where it may not be applicable. A qualified practitioner will take a full medical history before the start of any treatment, to assess the suitability of ESWT. Some common conditions which may preclude the use of the treatment are:

  • Pregnancy
  • Bone cancer
  • Blood clotting or nerve disorders
  • Localised infection in the treatment area
  • Recent steroid treatment for the condition
  • Metal pins in the affected area

Your practitioner ill be able to give specific advice and suggest alternative treatments in these cases.

Is shockwave therapy painful?

Don’t be put off by the name. Whilst you may experience a little pain or discomfort in the affected area, most patients quickly get used to it. Many report ESWT simply feels like small pulses against the skin. For the first few sessions, lower power acoustic waves can be used, to help a patient acclimatise to the feeling.

Once your session is finished, you can resume your normal daily activities straight away, avoiding high impact exercise such as running or playing tennis, for the first 48 hours. Paracetamol can be used to manage any pain, however you should avoid taking non-steroidal anti-inflammatory painkillers such as ibuprofen, which can counteract the treatment and render it ineffective. You may experience swelling and redness in the treated area, which is a normal part of the healing process. It should reduce in a few days.

Would you like to know more about shockwave therapy?

If you have been suffering from tendon pain in your Achilles, knee, elbow, foot, or shoulder for a long period of time and haven’t been able to find relief, then Shockwave therapy may be for you. If you would like to learn more about shockwave therapy then please get in touch with us and we can talk to you about it. Alternatively, if you would like to book an online appointment you can. We look forward to hearing from you.

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