One of the treatments that I offer my patients in Vancouver is Shockwave therapy, because it can be an incredibly effective way to address a wide variety of injuries and painful conditions. Also called extracorporeal shockwave therapy (ESWT), Shockwave therapy involves the use of a handheld device to deliver pulsed acoustic (sound) waves to a treatment area.
Scientists came to discover this therapy in a roundabout way. After the end of World War 2, doctors discovered changes in the bodies of people who had been exposed to shockwaves from waterbombs. They were interested in the fact that these patients showed internal changes to their lungs, without exhibiting any outward symptoms. While the exposure to these large shockwaves were unintentional, it was the first time that scientists were able to observe the influence of shockwaves on human tissue.
This led researchers to begin studying the healing potential of shockwaves on human tissue during the 1960’s and 1970’s. The first clinical treatment using Shockwave therapy occurred in 1985. It involved a procedure called lithotripsy, which was the use of shockwaves to break up gallbladder stones in a patient. Today, this treatment is often the first choice for hospitals and healthcare providers in the treatment of both gallstones and kidney stones.
During those early years, researchers were concerned that if the shockwaves could break up gallbladder and kidney stones, it might have negative consequences for the bones near the treatment area. However, they discovered just the opposite; that in fact, the shockwaves had a positive osteogenic effect on bones that could actually speed up the healing of fractures.
During the 1990’s scientists explored other uses for Shockwave therapy. Some of the first research reports concluded that shockwaves could successfully treat bone spurs that resulted from tendonitis, and the tendonitis itself. They found that Shockwave therapy could treat plantar heel spurs and epicondylitis (Tennis Elbow) with success rates as high as 70-80%.
How Do the Shockwaves Actually Help the Body Heal?
It wasn’t until much later that researchers were able to pinpoint the exact healing mechanisms of Shockwave therapy. However, they now have ideas as to what happens at the cellular level, based on their research, and it involves different phases of action:
- In the physical phase, the shockwaves exert a positive pressure that stimulates the transmission of energy into the underlying cellular tissue.
- In what’s called the physicochemical phase, the shockwaves trigger the release of chemicals including adenosine and ATP that stimulate the signaling pathways within the cells.
- During the chemical phase, the shockwaves affect the ion channels in the affected cell membranes, which boosts the mobilization of calcium.
- And during the biological phase, the shockwaves promote the development of new blood vessels in the treated area, which promotes healing in bone and soft tissue.
Essentially, scientists believe that Shockwave therapy causes tissue regeneration, in which the load of the shockwaves stimulates a series of cellular responses. In addition, Shockwave therapy is used in treating pain conditions. Scientists believe that the shockwaves promote the increased circulation of neurotransmitters, such as endorphins, that relieve pain, and the shockwaves work to decrease inflammation.
The bottom line is that scientists support the use of Shockwave therapy as a regenerative treatment because it stimulates healing changes at the cellular level. It helps to promote and speed up the healing of connective tissues, such as ligaments, tendons and fascia, as well as muscles bones and nerves. If you’d like more information or to know whether Shockwave therapy is right for you, book a free consult today.