In the spring of 2019, I added a Shockwave machine to our array of treatment modalities. I’ve found that it’s been a great addition for treating many of my patients who have stubborn conditions, such as tendonopathy / tendonitis, tight or strained muscles, bursitis, painful trigger points and fascial adhesions. That said, not many people in Vancouver are familiar with Shockwave therapy, so in this post, I’m answering some of the most common questions patients ask about this remarkable therapy.
What exactly is Shockwave therapy?
While the term Shockwave sounds a little severe, it’s actually just a pulsed acoustic wave, which means that it’s a combination of high pressure followed by a negative pressure. Shockwave therapy is also known as Extracorporeal Shockwave Therapy, or ESWT, with the term “extracorporeal” meaning that the sound wave is applied to the outside of your body.
How does Shockwave therapy work?
When Shockwave therapy is applied to a targeted area, it speeds up the healing process by stimulating cellular metabolism, breaking down scar tissue and promoting better circulation to regenerate and heal damaged tissue. When the energy pulses are applied to the treatment area, the short bursts of sound waves penetrate deep into the tissue and stimulate the cellular turnover responsible for bone and connective tissue healing. This kind of Shockwave therapy can be used to treat problems in tendons, ligaments, joint capsules, muscles and bones.
How is Shockwave therapy actually delivered? Is it a machine?
Yes, a Shockwave machine uses air compression to transmit sound waves into the treatment area. I use a machine made by STORZ Medical, a company who has been making medical equipment since 1941. I was first turned onto STORZ and Shockwave therapy in general by a colleague in Alberta who had been effectively using it in his practice for over ten years. STORZ Medical’s focused radial Shockwave systems are handmade in Switzerland. Before I purchased my Shockwave system, I did a lot of research, and found that STORZ are well-known as manufacturers of the most successful Extracorporeal Shock Wave Therapy systems.
The machine itself kind of looks like a gaming console or a tower for a personal computer. The handpiece that actually touches your body looks a lot like an ultrasound machine head.
Does Shockwave therapy hurt?
I wouldn’t compare it to, say, a gentle massage, because Shockwave therapy is not always comfortable. However, I can control the intensity of sensation. So, while Shockwave isn’t necessarily a feel-good therapy, it doesn’t have to hurt to work. Remember I’m applying pressure to an area that may be tender to begin with. That said, I can regulate the sensation during a treatment by reducing the pressure coming from the machine, by controlling how much pressure I apply to the target area with the handheld device and the type of treatment head that I use on the handheld device. There are different attachments for bony or sensitive areas, those for deeper tissue applications, attachments for treating large areas and those that are used for trigger points.
What kinds of conditions can you treat with Shockwave therapy?
I’ve been using it on many different kinds of pain, injuries and range of motion problems. Research studies have shown that Shockwave therapy is 76-91% effective for conditions such as:
- Fascial release
- Plantar Fasciitis
- Frozen shoulder
- Calcaneal (heel) spurs
- Tendon problems, including shoulder, hamstrings, Achilles, and elbow
- Stress fractures
- Jumper’s knee
- Painful trigger points
- Tennis elbow
- Shin splints
- Osgood-Schlatter Syndrome
- Morton’s neuroma
- Reduction of scar tissue
In my years of using Shockwave therapy, I’ve found that it really helps people with stubborn conditions, such as trigger points and muscles that won’t release, fascial adhesion, tendon and joint pain, and even with small joints like thumbs, fingers and toes. It’s really good for muscle and connective tissue problems.
How does something like Shockwave therapy work in a practice that focuses on acupuncture and Chinese medicine?
I love helping people with sports injuries and pain, and acupuncture is amazing for these conditions, but I can’t always help everyone as much as I want to. So, my philosophy is to blend the ancient traditions of Chinese medicine with new technology. Since I can use treatments like Shockwave therapy and cold laser as a part of my scope of practice, and because the efficacy for these treatments is so high, I have added them to my practice to enhance the outcomes for my patients. I have found that I can help a lot of patients with acupuncture, cupping and Chinese herbal medicine, but there are some patients who will benefit even more from a combination of those treatments plus Shockwave therapy, or even Shockwave treatments alone.
My initial interest in Shockwave therapy arose when I was doing research on adding cold laser therapy to my practice. The amount of research that was cropping up about the effectiveness of Shockwave therapy was amazing. I’ve had my share of injuries living in Vancouver, because it’s a great place for active people like me. I love to do strenuous sports like hockey, mountain biking and skiing. Because of my own bumps, bruises and injuries, I’ve always been interested in treating sports injuries and pain conditions. Adding Shockwave therapy to my healing toolbox seemed like a natural step.
Are Shockwave treatments done in conjunction with acupuncture and other modalities, or is it a stand-alone treatment?
The answer here is that it depends. Every patient has a different situation and health care needs. I definitely combine acupuncture treatments with Shockwave therapy; it just requires a little more time for the treatment. An acupuncture session takes about 45 minutes, and Shockwave takes another 15. When I do a health assessment with a patient, I let them know how to book their sessions. Combining acupuncture with Shockwave therapy can be a very effective way to reduce pain and promote faster healing, but in many cases, Shockwave therapy can also be a great stand-alone treatment.
The bottom line is that Shockwave therapy is a great addition to my practice. It’s effective for stubborn conditions and is a good choice for treating connective tissue injuries, such as tendon, ligament, fascia, muscle and bone conditions that can be slow to heal. By combining the traditions of acupuncture and Chinese medicine with the technology of modalities such as Shockwave therapy, I’m able to increase the efficacy of the treatments that I offer.