Extracorporeal shockwave therapy (ESWT) is now an established treatment alternative for many bone and soft tissue disorders in the foot and ankle. It’s probably best known for treating chronic Achilles pain and plantar fasciitis.
Extracorporeal means ‘outside the body’. A hand-held probe is used to deliver sound waves to the painful area.
How does it work?
The shockwave is generated through a focused impulse that targets the painful area. In studies this has been shown to reduce the quantity of nerve fibres that transmit painful impulses, causing a reduction in pain. It can also lead to an increase in the tissue healing process, increasing the formation of new blood vessels.
What conditions can be treated with shockwave therapy?
Conditions that are treated with shockwave therapy include Achilles pain (or tendinopathy) and heel pain (plantar fasciitis). It’s also used for treating fractures that have failed to join successfully, such as non-union or stress fractures.
How is treatment carried out?
No anaesthetic is required. A small amount of gel is applied to the skin that helps the machine transmit impulses to the painful area. The machine is then switched on and the shockwave probe is pressed lightly onto the skin to deliver the rapid impulses.
Is it painful?
In the majority of cases it’s not uncomfortable or painful.
How long does treatment take?
Each treatment session typically lasts 5-15 minutes.
How successful is it?
The evidence to support its use is growing, especially when treating Achilles tendinopathy where large studies have shown its benefit in curing symptoms.
What are the risks?
There is no risk of infection from wound complications and the procedure is considered completely safe, with potentially huge benefits.
What if it doesn’t work?
Most surgeons will use shockwave therapy after other non-operative treatments have failed. If shockwave therapy doesn’t work, the next step is usually surgery.
Important: This information is only a guideline to help you understand your treatment and what to expect. Everyone is different and your rehabilitation may be quicker or slower than other people’s. Please contact us for advice if you’re worried about any aspect of your health or recovery.