Extracorporeal Shock Wave Therapy, (or ESWT), is a new technology using shockwaves to treat chronic, painful conditions of the musculoskeletal system. A shockwave is an intense, but very short energy wave traveling faster than the speed of sound. The word "Extra-corporeal" means "outside the body" and refers to the fact that the shockwaves are generated outside the body.
How does ESWT work?
Simply put, extracorporeal shockwaves stimulate certain components within the body so the body is able to heal. And ESWT is able to accomplish this even in chronic cases, when the body has demonstrated a previous unwillingness or inability to do so by itself.
In addition to stimulating the healing process, ESWT seems to have a direct effect on nerves, diminishing pain.
Many traditional therapies--such as anti-inflammatory medications, steroid injections, physiotherapy, massage, acupuncture, and so forth--can assist the body during the early, acute phase of an injury. However, they are much less effective in assisting the body to heal when an injury becomes chronic. As an example, many patients can relate to a history where a steroid injection (like cortisone) seemed to be effective in resolving pain early in their healing process, but subsequent injections were much less effective. This isn't really surprising when you realize that a chronic-state, degenerative injury isn't likely to respond well to a medication designed to affect an acute-phase, inflammatory condition.
What makes ESWT unique is that it is one of the very few technologies in any field of medicine that seems to work best when an injury reaches the chronic, non-healing state. ESWT appears to be able to jump start the healing process in chronic, non-healing injuries and move them back into the acute phase of healing.
What conditions can you treat with ESWT?
Extracorporeal Shock Wave Therapy can be used to treat a wide variety of musculoskeletal conditions--particularly those involving where major connective tissues attach to bone.
Complaints involving attachment points for tendons and ligaments in major joints like the shoulder (such as the rotator cuff), elbow (epicondylitis or tennis elbow), hip, and knee (tendinitis or "jumper's knee) are common sites for ESWT.
One of the areas most frequently treated with ESWT, however, is the foot. Some conditions in the foot that have been treated with ESWT include:
Plantar Fasciitis or Fasciosis (Strained Arch)
Achilles Tendinitis or Tendinosis
Calcific Tendinitis or Tendinosis
Connective Tissue Pain and degeneration
Muscle Pain and Injuries
How fast does ESWT work?
We find that many patients get an initial degree of improvement almost immediately following treatment. This effect is usually (but not always) temporary, and is associated with an anesthesia effect from the hyperstimulation of the tissue from the ESWT.
It takes several days for injuries to begin to heal, and many patients see an improvement before the end of the second week. Depending upon your diagnosis, the healing process may take several weeks or even months to be completed, but pain relief often precedes the completion of the healing process.