What Is ShockWave Therapy?

Shockwave Therapy - Also Known As Radial Pressure Wave Therapy

Shockwave therapy is a medical treatment that utilizes ultrasound technology to send high-energy acoustic waves into the target area to stimulate the body’s natural healing abilities. At the most basic level, shockwave therapy stimulates new cell growth. These new, healthy cells replace old, weak, or damaged cells.

Shockwaves are actually focused ultrasonic energy (i.e., ultrasound), which is simply sound waves that have a vibration frequency greater than 20,000 Hz. For reference, most humans hear sounds with a frequency between 20 and 20,000 Hz.

Shockwave therapy goes by a number of names, including:

  • Extracorporeal shockwave therapy (ESWT)
  • Acoustic wave therapy
  • Radial pressure wave therapy (RPW), also known as radial shockwave therapy
  • Focused shockwave therapy (FSW)

Numerous studies prove that shockwave, or radial pressure wave therapy, is an effective means of eliminating chronic pain without surgery.

Doctors first used shockwave therapy in the 1990s, to treat kidney stones. They observed that the treatment seemed to accelerate healing in both bone and soft tissues, which led to research into other medical applications of RPW treatments.

The Benefits of Radial Shockwave Therapy

Research over the past 20 years shows how RPW shockwave therapy is effective against chronic pain and inflammation.
Shockwave therapy demonstration

  • Improved blood flow: The acoustic waves in Shockwave therapy create microscopic tears in tissues, which causes the body to create new blood vessels. This increases blood flow and oxygenation to the treatment area, promoting faster healing.
  • Reduces inflammation: Chronic inflammation causes pain and reduced function. Mast cells help fight inflammation; acoustic waves increase mast cell activity.
  • Increased collagen production: Collagen is vital to bone and joint health as it is a key component in the structure of muscle, skin, and connective tissues. Shockwave therapy causes your body to increase collagen production, creating a strong support structure for new cells.
  • Reduces calcification: Damaged tendons typically have a buildup of calcium. Acoustic waves break through that calcium buildup, which the body then expels naturally.
  • Interrupts the “pain train”: Your body sends pain messages via a neurotransmitter called Substance P. Shockwave therapy lowers Substance P concentrations, interrupting those pain messages. That reduced concentration also inhibits your body’s inflammatory response to provide even more pain relief.
  • Relaxes trigger points: Extreme muscle tension in the back, neck, shoulders, and limbs (your body’s pain trigger points) impedes blood flow to those areas. This causes pain as the muscle no longer receives enough oxygen. Blood flow is also how your body removes waste. Lack of oxygen and waste buildup causes even more tension in the muscle, creating a cycle known as metabolic crisis. Acoustic wave therapy releases the tension in these trigger points, easing pain and breaking the cycle.

What is the Difference Between Shockwave Therapy, Radial Pressure Wave Therapy, Acoustic Wave Therapy, Focused Shockwave Therapy, and Extracorporeal Shockwave Therapy?

All of these use the same essential component – sound waves – to effect change in the body. This page from the International Society for Medical Shockwave Treatment describes the principles of shockwave therapy in great detail, including how the device produces and transmits acoustic energy to the treatment area.

The only real difference in these therapies is the frequency (i.e., speed) of the sound waves produced and the depth and range of the treatment area. Radial pressure wave therapy loses energy as it travels, making it better suited to treatment areas that are closer to the skin. Focused shockwaves allow for deeper penetration – up to 12cm – with reduced impact on surrounding tissues. All of these treatments fall under the general umbrella of shockwave therapy.

What to Expect - A RPW Shockwave Therapy Demonstration

Shockwave therapy is relatively quick and easy. Dr. Taylor begins with a physical exam to determine the precise area requiring treatment. Next, he applies a gel ointment that allows the RPW applicator to glide smoothly across the skin. Finally, using gentle pressure, he pushes the applicator over the treatment area.

In the video below, Dr. Taylor demonstrates an RPW Therapy treatment for a patient with plantar fasciitis.

In the video below, Dr. Taylor demonstrates an RPW Therapy treatment for a patient with an elbow injury.

Conditions Treatable with Shockwave Therapy

Chiropractic care is about more than spinal manipulation. We seek to treat the source of pain wherever it occurs. In addition to shoulder, back, and hip pain, Shockwave therapy helps treat many other types of problems, including common foot issues that cause heel pain, such as plantar fasciitis and bone spurs.

RPW Therapy for shoulder pain

Shoulder pain

Calcification, chronic inflammation, or acute injury may cause shoulder pain and limited function. Most patients experience significant reduction in symptoms within four treatments.

Hip Pain

Muscles and tendons in your hips often suffer from overuse, particularly as you age. RPW reduces inflammation, speeds healing, and eliminates pain.

RPW Therapy for jumper's knee

Jumper’s knee

Patients who have this difficult-to-treat condition typically feel pain relief immediately following the first treatment.

RPW Therapy for Tennis Elbow

Tennis Elbow

Traditional treatments for epicondylitis, commonly known as tennis elbow, include steroid injections and pain medications. Neither offers a permanent solution. In addition, pain medications are highly addictive and should be avoided whenever possible. Shockwave therapy offers permanent pain relief in only a few sessions.

RPW Therapy for Plantar Fasciitis

Plantar Fasciitis

Plantar fascia connects the heel bone to the rest of your foot. When it becomes inflamed or injured, heel pain results. RPW relaxes the plantar fascia, promoting healing and alleviating heel pain.

RPW Therapy for bone spurs

Bone spurs

Calcium deposits on the heel bone may cause a growth known as a spur to develop. Acoustic waves break up calcification to relieve pain and return functionality.

Chronic tendinopathy

Overuse and acute injury may cause chronic inflammation of the tendon (known as tendinopathy). Although it is most common in the Achilles tendon, this condition may occur throughout the body. Patients usually experience symptom relief within three to five treatments.

Radial Pressure Wave Therapy for Medial tibial stress syndrome

Medial tibial stress syndrome

Repetitive stress to the shin area, typically due to walking or running on hard or uneven surfaces, often causes pain and inflammation. Shockwave therapy gets you back on your feet twice as quickly as traditional RICE therapy (rest, ice, compression, elevation).

RPW Therapy for rotator cuff calcification

Rotator cuff calcification

This condition causes pain and reduced range of motion. Acoustic wave therapy breaks up calcium deposits for quick, lasting relief of symptoms.

RPW Therapy for Insertional tendinitis

Insertional tendinitis

Inflammation of the Achilles tendon typically occurs due to calcification or a bone spur. RPW increases blood flow to the area to speed healing and reduce pain.

Call Southwest Spine & Rehab

If you’re looking for non-surgical, drug-free relief from your pain, schedule an appointment with Southwest Spine & Rehab today. We’re dedicated to helping patients achieve total body health and wellness. That’s why we work with you to resolve the issue that’s causing your pain, not simply hide it with medication.

Other non-surgical, drug-free pain relief options offered at Southwest Spine & Rehab Chiropractic are:

SW Spine is committed to helping our patients lead healthy and pain free lives. If you suffer from any pain issues, request an appointment to see what we can do for you.