What Is Shockwave Therapy?
If you aren’t sure what shockwave therapy (SWT) is, you’re not alone. A fairly modern treatment modality, we frequently get questions about SWT when we recommend it to our patients. Here’s what you need to know.
Shockwave therapy is similar to ultrasound in that both use a wand to deliver focussed acoustic pulsations (or sound waves) to a targeted area on the body. Gel is applied to the skin and the wand is passed over the injured area delivering low energy pulses for about 2-3 minutes. The sound waves applied in SWT are more intense than ultrasound, however, as they are designed to break down scar tissue so there is some temporary discomfort, which passes quickly.
What is shockwave therapy used for?
Shockwave therapy is used to treat tendon and soft tissue injuries, and is useful in providing pain relief from chronic conditions. In our physiotherapy clinic we use SWT for:
- various types of tendonitis
- rotator cuff injuries
- plantar fasciitis
Why is it recommended for me?
Shockwave therapy is a frequently suggested non-invasive modality for patients suffering from stubborn tendinopathy that hasn’t responded well to other treatments; and for patients whose chronic pain conditions are hampering their recovery via traditional physiotherapy. By subjecting the injured area to targeted sound waves, SWT provokes an inflammation response in the body which in turns triggers a natural healing process. Studies have shown SWT to be highly efficacious in reducing pain, speeding healing, and improving mobility outcomes for physiotherapy clients.
How long is the treatment process?
Your physiotherapist will prepare a personalized treatment plan based on your specific needs, but you can expect to have a treatment 1 to 2 times per week for 3-6 weeks. You may see improvement after the first treatment and you will be continually assessed as you progress.
What can I expect during the SWT session?
Your shockwave therapy won’t take very long. In fact, the treatment itself only takes about 2-3 minutes. You may experience some mild discomfort, akin to having a rubber band snapped against your skin, but this passes quickly. As well, the physiotherapist can adjust the intensity to your comfort level.
What can I expect after the SWT session?
As described above, shockwave therapy is designed to trigger the body’s own healing response so you may find the treated area may be somewhat sore or swollen for a few days. But any tenderness should subside within a few days and many patients report a reduction in pain from their original condition immediately following treatment. While it is a good idea to take it easy for a few days and avoid overtaxing the treated area, most activities can be resumed normally. Your physiotherapist can give you precise instructions depending on your specific requirements.
Who shouldn’t receive shockwave therapy?
Some people may not be good candidates for shockwave therapy due to existing conditions, medications and/or circumstances. SWT is not recommended for anyone with circulatory or nerve disorders (including patients taking blood thinners), or who have certain bone conditions, infections or tumours. Patients with open wounds or pregnant women are also excluded. A comprehensive screening process is conducted prior to the commencement of any treatment to ensure it is right for you.
Back to the question
To sum up, here are the main benefits of shockwave therapy:
- excellent option for stubborn tendinopathy
- non-invasive solution for chronic pain conditions
- mild side effects
- efficacious and cost-effective treatment
- limited down time and fast recovery
Wang, C. Extracorporeal shockwave therapy in musculoskeletal disorders. J Orthop Surg Res. 2012; 7 (11).
Roerdink RL, Dietvorst M, van der Zwaard B, van der Worp H, Zwerver J.Complications of extracorporeal shockwave therapy in plantar fasciitis: Systematic review. International Journal of Surgery. 2017 Oct; 46: 133-145.
Santamato A, Panza F, Notarnicola A, Cassatella G, Fortunato F, de Sanctis JL, Valeno G, Kehoe PG, Seripa D, Logroscino G, Fiore P, Ranieri M. Is Extracorporeal Shockwave Therapy Combined With Isokinetic Exercise More Effective Than Extracorporeal Shockwave Therapy Alone for Subacromial Impingement Syndrome? A Randomized Clinical Trial. Journal of Orthopaedic & Sports Physical Therapy. 2016; 46(9): 714-725
Jenn Nagle is a registered physiotherapist and graduated with her MScPT from McMaster University in 2014. Prior to this she obtained a Specialist Honors BSc from York University in Kinesiology and an Honors BA in History, Psychology and Women’s Studies from the University of Toronto. She has an active interest in sports and physical activity having once been a post-natal fitness instructor and personal trainer. Jenn enjoys working with clients of all ages but especially likes working with older adults. She can be contacted through her business: Streetsville Sports & Physiotherapy