Extracorporeal Shock Wave Therapy

What is extracorporeal shock wave therapy?

Shock wave therapy is a noninvasive method that uses pressure waves to treat various musculoskeletal conditions. High-energy acoustic waves (shock waves) deliver a mechanical force to the body’s tissues.

What signs indicate this therapy is needed?

Shock wave therapy may treat conditions such as degenerated tendons (Achilles tendonitis), heel pain (plantar fasciitis) and tennis elbow (lateral epicondylitis).

When should I avoid this therapy?

Complications are infrequent with shock wave therapy. People who have poor sensation (neuropathy) or hypersensitivity in the target area should not have this procedure.  Open sores should also be avoided. Shock wave therapy is not used in patients with heart conditions or seizures. It should not be used during pregnancy. This should be discussed with your physician before undergoing the procedure.

General Details of Procedure

A noninvasive probe is applied to the skin. An electrical charge creates an energy wave that is focused on the area of concern. The shock waves create a force on the tissues that may induce healing. It’s not clear why this approach to healing works for some people, but it may be that shock waves cause inflammation and improve blood flow to encourage the body to repair and heal itself.

Specific Technique

Shock wave therapy is an outpatient procedure. A probe is placed on the skin after a gel is applied to help conduct the shock waves. High- or low-energy waves may be used. High-energy waves may cause pain and require a local or regional anesthetic. Low-energy shock wave therapy often is performed without anesthesia. Therapy is more successful with active patient participation where the patient tells the therapist whether or not the probe is at the area of pain. One or more treatment sessions may be needed.

What happens after the procedure?

Patients typically bear weight after treatment. Patients are advised to reduce the level of physical activity for one to two weeks after treatment. Shock wave therapy may give good outcomes for some tendon problems or chronic degenerative conditions.  Examples include Achilles tendinitis and plantar fasciitis.

Potential Complications

The main complications are pain and hypersensitivity at the site of treatment. These problems typically resolve with time. Pain and disability may persist when shock wave therapy is not successful.

Frequently Asked Questions

Is this a substitute for surgery?
Shock wave therapy is a noninvasive treatment that can help avoid surgery. Treatment responses may vary. Success cannot be guaranteed.
Is this covered by insurance?
This may depend on the insurance policy. Discuss this with your health care provider and contact your insurance carrier before having the procedure.
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