What Is Shockwave Therapy?

What Is Shockwave Therapy?

Shockwave therapy is a gold standard treatment that is used by our physiotherapists and podiatrists here at PhysioCentral to help our clients achieve the best clinical outcomes for their musculoskeletal injuries and pain. The specific line of shockwave machines we use from Swiss Dolorclast have robust clinical data with a large library of research articles with proven efficacy across a range of pains and problems, from knee osteoarthritis to plantar fasciitis, to shoulder pain and more.

What Is Shockwave?

While shockwave therapy is currently an in-demand treatment to help accelerate healing and repair, it is far from “new” - research on shockwave has spanned many decades, with shockwave being used in medicine back in the 1980’s to break down a kidney stone in the body. In the 1990’s, it started being used for musculoskeletal problems.

Referred to as extracorporeal shockwave therapy (ESWT) in the studies (with ‘extracorporeal’ simply meaning ‘situated outside of the body’), shockwave treatment works by directing specifically calibrated, high-energy acoustic (sound) waves at a site of musculoskeletal injury, by applying the shockwave handpiece (pictured) over the damaged area, such as the heel bone or the elbow. These sound waves then stimulate the body’s natural healing process in the area by increasing the blood flow locally, and stimulating the production of growth factors and stem cells that support the growth of new blood vessels and tissues to help repair the damage. Shockwave also works to reduce the inflammation markers in the targeted area, which means less pain for our clients - many of whom can feel a reduction in their symptoms after their first appointment, almost like an analgesic effect.

Our particular form of shockwave therapy is radial pressure waves (as opposed to focused waves) meaning that the radial waves spread to treat larger areas, allowing us to move the handpiece over a wider injury site instead of having to focus in on very specific locations to get the desired effects.

Why Our Clients Love Shockwave

Our practitioners consider shockwave to be a valuable treatment as it is able to help our clients attain their recovery and rehab goals at a faster rate. Feedback from our clients on why it is a highly rated therapy include the:

  • Non-invasive approach, meaning that shockwave does not require surgery or any incisions to be made in the skin to achieve long-lasting results. It also does not require any medicines to be consumed or anaesthetic to be administered.
  • Fast recovery time following the treatment, with most patients experiencing little discomfort with no downtime required following the treatment session, meaning they can return to their daily activities immediately.
  • High success rate in treating a range of musculoskeletal conditions, as evidenced by a database of randomised controlled studies using the Swiss Dolorclast Shockwave therapy machine.
  • Long-term mechanism of action, meaning that instead of acting like a ‘band aid’ for temporary symptom relief for example, it promotes healing and recovery for long-term repair and symptom relief.
  • Many people experience improvements in function and mobility by reducing pain and inflammation.
  • Shockwave has few complications or adverse effects reported. Any side effects are fairly mild, such as redness at the treatment site, bruising, short-lived discomfort during the treatment, tingling or numbness in the area, or a temporary increase in symptoms immediately following the treatment.

What Injuries Or Problems Can Shockwave Help With?

Based on the growing body of high level evidence behind radial pressure wave therapy, its clinical indications include:

  • Plantar fasciitis heel pain
  • Achilles tendinopathy (both insertional and mid-portion)
  • Knee osteoarthritis
  • Patellofemoral pain syndrome
  • Lower back pain
  • Upper back pain
  • Shin splints (medial tibial stress syndrome)
  • Greater trochanteric pain syndrome (hip pain)
  • Calcific tendinopathy in the shoulder
  • Subacromial pain syndrome (shoulder pain)
  • Tennis elbow Golfer’s elbow
  • Myofascial trigger points
  • Muscle stiffness (spasticity)

What Does A Shockwave Session Look Like?

To clarify, it is not common practice to make an appointment just for shockwave, as you first need to be assessed by one of our physiotherapists or podiatrists so that we understand what your diagnosis is, the cause of your pain or injury, and whether or not shockwave can actually help you in your circumstances - or if there’s another treatment pathway that will be more effective in helping you get the results you want. Moreover, shockwave is usually one component of a thorough, evidence-based treatment plan where all of the elements work together to help achieve the best clinical outcomes.

Once we have confirmed your suitability for shockwave (and made a plan for your overall management and recovery), your shockwave session may look like:

  • Your physiotherapist palpates around the target (injured) area, identifying our target spots to apply the handpiece to, marking these areas, and then applying ultrasound gel.
  • We select the appropriate settings on our Swiss Dolorclast shockwave device based on your injury, circumstances and clinical recommendations. We maintain full control over the device throughout the entire treatment.
  • Compressed air moves through the handpiece which moves a bean-like piece within the shockwave handle at a rapid rate. This causes the shockwaves to radiate out of the handpiece, through the gel and into the targeted area.
  • One round of shockwave lasts for approximately 60-120 seconds, and we may complete 2-3 rounds per treatment area, all depending on your unique circumstances.
  • After your shockwave session, we will complete any complementary therapies as per your management plan, such as dry needling, massage or strapping.
  • We’ll let you know when to return for your next round of shockwave. The number of sessions required will vary from person to person, and we expect to see notable improvements in your symptoms each week.

Is Shockwave Painful?

Despite the name ‘shockwave’ making it sound like a painful course of treatment, all of our shockwave sessions are very well tolerated by our clients, often with minimal discomfort. Any discomfort or pain tends to arise from the fact that the device must be positioned directly over your existing injury, which is already tender. Once the acoustic waves are administered (over several ‘rounds’ at just a few minutes per round), the reparative and pain-relieving benefits begin. This is why our clients are happy to have several rounds of shockwave as per their recommended treatment protocols (this varies greatly from person to person), as they experience notable benefits from the treatment week after week, even with chronic (long standing) pain or injuries.

Key Takeaways:

  • Shockwave is not a “new” treatment - it has been used to improve musculoskeletal health for decades
  • Shockwave has a large body of evidence behind its efficacy
  • Shockwave is not a one-size-fits-all treatment. It is adjustable and customisable based on your needs, and what is going to help you in reaching your goals.
  • Shockwave is non-invasive, and its effects are long lasting (in contrast to temporary ‘band aid’ treatment options)
  • Your physiotherapist stays with you every step of the way to ensure you’re on track for an optimal recovery
  • Shockwave is well tolerated in terms of any pain or discomfort associated with the treatment