Extracorporeal Shockwave Therapy (ESWT)

What is extracorporeal shockwave therapy?

Extracorporeal shockwave therapy (ESWT) is a non-invasive treatment for muscle and tendon problems. ESWT uses a rapid series of small shockwaves to treat conditions such as:

  • Tendonitis
  • Plantar fasciitis
  • Rotator cuff injuries
  • Tennis elbow (epicondylitis)

In many cases, ESWT is used as a treatment for old injuries that continue to flare up over time.

What to expect from extracorporeal shockwave therapy

If you have chronic pain from an injury, ESWT may be a good treatment option for you. Your doctor will do a physical exam and ask you about your pain. You may need an X-ray or another type of imaging test before you can get ESWT.

You can get extracorporeal shockwave therapy on an outpatient basis, meaning you will go home the same day. Before the procedure, your doctor or physical therapist will apply a local anesthetic to the area being treated so you won't feel pain. Then he or she will stabilize the area and position the ESWT device against it to guide the shockwaves into the right place. The entire treatment takes about 30 minutes.

Finding new ways to use ESWT

Right now, ESWT is only available as a treatment for musculoskeletal problems. A similar procedure, called ultrasound lithotripsy, uses sound waves to break kidney stones into smaller pieces so that they're easier to pass.

ESWT is an emerging form of treatment, and researchers are still determining exactly how it helps the body heal. It was discovered by accident when doctors noticed that patients who had ultrasound lithotripsy to treat kidney stones also found relief from other aches and pains.

Researchers are looking at new ways to use ESWT, including using it to help repair broken bones, heal wounds and treat diabetic foot ulcers.