What is shockwave therapy? And why all the fuss?

SWT machine on shoulder

Rehabilitation is trendy.

As opposed to fashion or music though, our trends tend to be based on research. If there is evidence that a particular treatment or modality works, it tends to show up in our practice. Of late, one modality that has drawn lots of attention for its positive effects has been shockwave therapy.

Shockwave works by delivering energy into tissues through a hand-held device that is placed on the skin. The energy is created by sound waves passing through a transducer, with the end result being a mechanical effect on the injured tissue.

Most manufacturers and websites will give vague explanations for what shockwave does, without getting into the details of how it actually works.  There are several reasons for this: First, the details are very complex, and involve biochemistry and physiology that would make most of our heads spin.  Second, shockwave has multiple effects on the body, and it’s not completely clear which of these things creates the positive result. However, the most common theories suggest that it does several things:

  • Promotes positive change in biochemicals in the painful region
  • Promotes regeneration at the cellular level
  • Because treatment does involve some discomfort, it stimulates pain inhibition in the brain

Our bodies can’t necessarily feel healing, but they can feel a decrease in pain. Success with shockwave means that there is less pain – which then opens the door to better movement and the ability to load tissues, which leads to strength improvements. In that way, shockwave can be an important part of a complete treatment plan – which also includes exercise.

As of January 2019, we have a shockwave machine in the clinic, ready to go. If you think you might be a candidate, talk to your physio to find out!

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