Extracorporeal shockwave therapy is a non-invasive method that uses pressure waves to treat various musculoskeletal conditions. High-energy acoustic waves (shock waves) deliver a mechanical force to the body’s tissues. Shock wave therapy sessions may treat conditions like degenerated tendons, or Achilles tendinitis, heel pain, which is plantar fasciitis, and tennis elbow, or lateral epicondylitis. A non-invasive probe is applied to the skin after a gel is applied to help conduct the shock waves. An electrical charge, using either high or low energy waves, creates an energy wave that is focused on the areas of concern. The shock waves create a force on the tissues that may induce healing, though it’s not clear why this approach works for some people. It may be that shock waves cause inflammation, which in turn, improves blood flow to encourage the body to repair and heal itself. Shockwave therapy is an outpatient procedure.
Patients typically can bear weight after treatment, although they are usually advised to reduce the level of physical activity for 1-2 weeks after treatment. Shockwave therapy may give good outcomes for some tendon problems or chronic degenerative conditions, including Achilles tendinitis and plantar fasciitis.
The two most common problems that can be addressed through shockwave therapy are Achilles tendinitis and plantar fasciitis. Shockwave therapy has helped some plantar fasciitis patients accelerate the healing process and return to a pain-free life. Many podiatrists consider such treatment to be a better alternative as there is no risk of infection, nerve injury nor scarring following the procedure. Also, since there is no anesthesia required, it is definitely considered more affordable and convenient than even minor surgical procedures that treat plantar fasciitis, and there is no downtime needed, with minimal or non-existent side effects.
Shockwave therapy stimulates the body’s healing process by electronically inducing microtrauma to the tissue, which triggers increased blood flow and nutrient delivery to the affected area. While results and length of treatment will depend on the severity of the condition, patients tend to get the best results from a series of three or more treatments, which generally take 15 minutes each. This makes shockwave therapy something to consider if you desire less invasion, shorter recovery time, and less financial investment. This treatment is versatile and can be used for plantar fasciitis, Achilles tendonitis, retrocalcaneal bursitis, non-union stress fractures, and heel spurs. Shockwave therapy is the most advanced and highly effective non-invasive treatment method cleared by the FDA for chronic heel pain. Damaged tissue gradually regenerates and eventually heals. Some patients report immediate pain relief after treatment, although it can take up to 4 weeks for pain relief. Shockwave therapy is not covered by insurance. It is an elective, out-of-pocket cost. This may also be a factor in considering shockwave therapy. Clinicians should only consider shockwave therapy for treating a pathology after more common, accepted, and proven non-invasive treatments have failed. Numerous studies have proven that 80 to 90% of people suffering from plantar fasciitis will be treated successfully with conservative treatment over a six month period of time. There is little debate over the most effective conservative management options for plantar fasciitis. It is in the absence of success following these more conservative methods that shockwave therapy should possibly be considered. Of course, any course of action should be decided upon by the patient and his/her consulting physician. Your orthopedic surgeon or podiatrist can help you decide what is the best treatment plan for you.
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