Understanding Shockwave Therapy: A Comprehensive Guide to Pain Relief and Healing

If you have heard of shockwave therapy, you might be confused or a little concerned about the term. Shockwave therapy is nothing to be concerned about though as it’s a form of noninvasive therapy which means no surgery or incisions are required. 

The main point of the therapy is to relieve pain in tendons and other soft issues that have been injured. Shockwave therapy can also promote healing and allow the injured ligaments and tendons to heal faster than they would on their own. 

Tendon and ligament injuries are often hard to heal and some people live with chronic and persistent pain because of them. This is why things like shockwave therapy are becoming more and more popular. 

This guide will cover all the ins and outs of shockwave therapy so you can determine if it might be a good choice for you or not. 

Shockwave Therapy and Sports Injuries 

Shockwave therapy can be used to treat all different kinds of injuries, but most people seek this kind of therapy when they have suffered from a sports injury. Here are some of the most common sports injuries that can be treated with shockwave therapy:

  • Shoulder pain including injuries to the rotator cuff
  • Elbow pain is typically caused by sports with a lot of arm movement like tennis 
  • Leg pain including hamstring injuries 
  • Knee pain 
  • Foot pain 
  • Hip pain 
  • Achilles tendinopathies 

There are many other injuries that can be treated with shockwave therapy but the above sports injuries are typically the most commonly treated because they have the potential to have good results with shockwave therapy. 

How Exactly Does Shockwave Therapy Work? 

If you are interested in getting shockwave therapy, you will first have to go to a sports medicine physician. Sometimes an athletic trainer can also do the therapy but they have to be licensed and they have to be under the supervision of a doctor. 

The athletic trainer also needs to have training and skills in anatomy because they need to know the locations and pain points of tendons and ligaments. 

When you get shockwave therapy done, the doctor or trainer will hold a shockwave device next to the skin on the area where you have the injury. The device will then send small shockwaves to the tissues of the injured tendon or ligament. 

The small shockwaves will increase the blood flow in the tissues and also stimulate growth hormones in the area. These hormones will help the new tissues to grow faster and better. 

There are two main types of shockwave therapy and most of the time, a patient will receive both forms. 

First, you will get focused shockwave therapy which sends small waves into a small area of the injury. You will then receive radial shockwave therapy which can send waves to a larger area. For example, it can send shockwaves to an entire tendon. 

How Long Does Shockwave Therapy Last?

Most of the time, a treatment session will last about 15-20 minutes. You might get anywhere from three to five different treatments over a period of several weeks. How many treatments you get and the duration of each treatment session depends on where the injury is and how severe it is. 

After you get a shockwave therapy treatment, you will have to wait 24 hours before you can resume physical activity or play a sports game. 

Will I Experience Pain During Shockwave Therapy? 

Some people say that shockwave therapy is a little uncomfortable, but it should not be painful. If the tissues that are damaged are close to a bone, the shockwave therapy will be more painful in these areas compared to tissue segments that are from the bone. 

How much discomfort you will experience also depends on the injury and the person. There are types of gels that the doctor can rub on the injured before beginning shockwave therapy. 

This can reduce pain and discomfort. As soon as the shockwave therapy stops, the discomfort should also stop as well and not linger. 

Is Shockwave Therapy Effective? 

There have not been many published studies on the effectiveness of shockwave therapy. However, there are studies being done. Studies have been hard to do because most injuries from shockwave therapy begin to heal and feel better over a long period of time. This is because injured tissues take a long time to heal so studies can’t be done in just a matter of days or weeks. 

Most patients report that they have less pain and overall discomfort after a shockwave therapy session. Many also say that they are able to increase their strength and mobility quicker which allows them to get back into playing their sports. 

It’s important to note that you should use shockwave therapy in combination with other kinds of physical therapy to give yourself the best chance for healing and improvement. 

Side Effects and Complications of Shockwave Therapy 

Complications and bad side effects of shockwave therapy are very rare. A doctor will also look at your injury and overall health before beginning therapy. If for some reason shockwave therapy is not good for you and your injury, a doctor will let you know and advise that you do other forms of physical therapy. 

For example, you cannot receive shockwave therapy if you have a ligament or tendon that is almost completely torn. This is because shockwaves could cause the remaining tissue to tear. Patients with low bone density also cannot do shockwave therapy because it could cause them to experience stress fractures. 

The Bottom Line 

Shockwave therapy is very beneficial for those who have sports injuries or any kind of injury that causes issues with the bones and ligaments. A doctor will use a small device and send small shock waves to the injured area to help reduce pain and promote faster healing. 

Shockwave therapy is only mildly uncomfortable so most patients find that the treatment is easy and very beneficial. If you would like to try shockwave therapy, make sure to be in contact with your doctor and athletic trainer.