Extracorporeal shockwave therapy, ESWT, or simply “shockwave therapy” for short is the use of shockwaves to treat inflammations of the tendons around our joints. Although it is a relatively unknown therapy in the public eye, shockwave therapy has proven to be a popular choice among many athletes, as well as people with chronic pain.
What is it?
Shockwave therapy is used for tendon injuries such as tendonitis or plantar fasciitis. These usually occur as a result of overuse, or improper stretching before exercise, although anyone can be afflicted with tendon problems. Shockwave therapy treats these problems by using a small machine or pad to administer shockwaves throughout the affected area. These waves are purely physical in nature, and do not involve electricity.
How does it work?
It may seem strange that shockwaves could be used to treat inflamed tendons, but the reason this works is actually quite simple. The therapy works by actually trying to inflame the affected area more. While this may sound counterintuitive, using these waves tricks the body into thinking damage is being done, and it reacts by rushing blood to the affected area to help fight off what it thinks is a threat. This is the same reason we are able to freeze off warts and verucas: the cold seems damaging, but really just kicks the body into overdrive, allowing it to solve the problem naturally.
What are the benefits?
Extracorporeal means that the shockwaves are delivered outside the body. It is a quick, non-invasive treatment that uses no medication and has practically no risk. Sessions typically last no longer than 10 or 15 minutes, and benefits of these treatments are usually seen within two months.
Does it really work?
Shockwave therapy is said to have a success rate of 77% for chronic conditions that have not benefitted from other treatment options. The relief can be immediate for some patients, although even if the pain seems to dissipate instantly, it is still important to rest and give the tendons the time they need to heal.
Unfortunately, the benefits of shockwave therapy are more or less limited to issues such as tendonitis, which is why it is relatively unknown in comparison to other physiotherapy treatments. That being said, there are many similar treatments, such as freezing warts, or Lithotripsy, which is when kidney stones are broken up using similar waves. In fact, another benefit of shockwave therapy is the breakdown of any calcifications that may have formed around the injured area, which helps speed up the healing process and can prevent complications from arising in the future.
Shockwave therapy is a relatively niche form of therapy, but that doesn’t mean it can’t help you. If you have issues with tendon pain, and have yet to find a treatment that works, shockwave therapy could be the saving grace you’re looking for.