Pros and Cons of Shockwave Therapy
Almost every decision in life has pros and cons—or at the very least, benefits and risks. Should I watch one more episode or go to bed? Should I eat that last piece of cake?
Well, the same goes for medical treatments and procedures, including shockwave therapy.
That’s not to say that it isn’t one of the most amazing, safe, and highly effective treatments we have available of course—because it absolutely is! For most people, the pros are going to heavily outweigh the cons.
That being said, every person we treat is a unique individual with their own situation and their own goals. So while shockwave therapy might be the best treatment option for you, it might not be as ideal for someone else.
So, how do you know if shockwave therapy is right for you? Let’s provide a brief overview of what it is, first, then break down some of the main pros and cons of the procedure.
What is shockwave therapy?
If you want the full story, you can read our library page on this topic. However, we’ll give you the Cliff’s Notes version below.
Basically, shockwave therapy is a non-invasive treatment therapy that uses pulses of energy, or “shockwaves,” to trigger a healing response in soft tissues that have been damaged and are experiencing chronic pain.
The waves are generated by a small machine, travel through a cable and an applicator wand and into your injured tissues. These shockwaves facilitate increased metabolism, boosted collagen production, release of signaling chemicals, and other natural biological processes that fight your inflammation and accelerate tissue regeneration.
Because of this, shockwave therapy is generally considered an advanced conservative therapy for many forms of chronic inflammatory pain, which may be an effective alternative to surgery for many patients.
Pros of Shockwave Therapy
It is non-invasive.
Shockwave therapy does not require any incisions. The pulses are delivered through skin contact. In fact, that’s why the procedure is often more fully known as extracorporeal shockwave therapy—extracorporeal means “outside the body.”
This alone makes it a very compelling alternative to a surgical procedure.
It is (mostly) drug-free.
During the shockwave procedure itself, we may use a local anesthetic to dull the sensations of the vibrations. Very few patients experience any pain during the procedure, and the intensity can be adjusted if you’re uncomfortable.
Beyond that, though, no medications or drugs of any kinds are used in the procedure. There are no steroid injections, no prescriptions, nothing. The healing processes that shockwave therapy stimulates are completely natural functions that your body can handle all on its own. The shockwaves are necessary only to “kick start” the process.
There is no downtime.
Unlike surgery, there is no downtime associated with shockwave therapy. You walk into our office, we perform the treatment (usually only 15-20 minutes), and you walk out. It will not get in the way of any activities or daily living that you were already able to perform before the appointment.
It is safe.
Shockwave therapy is extremely safe. Minor side effects, such as mild swelling, bruising, or aches, may be experienced for a few days after the procedure, but major side effects are extremely rare.
It can greatly accelerate the healing process.
We often talk about shockwave as an alternative to surgery, and that is often how things happen. For many people, shockwave therapy is recommended in situations where the “usual” conservative treatments (like stretching, orthotics, rest, etc.) fail to provide adequate results. Shockwave therapy can then often get you “over the hump” and finally eliminate the chronic pain so you don’t need to have surgery.
That said, shockwave therapy can also be incorporated earlier in the process, alongside the more traditional conservative treatments, in order to substantially reduce the overall healing and recovery time. This is an attractive option for people who want the fastest possible return to full activity, such as athletes and people with physically demanding occupations.
Cons of Shockwave Therapy
It may not be covered by your insurance.
Although shockwave therapy has been approved by the FDA and has proven safe and effective through several research studies, many insurers have been somewhat slow to cover the procedure.
That’s not to say it’s out of reach for the average patient—even when paying out of pocket, we do what we can to make sure this is an affordable treatment option for our patients who want it. And it is still usually a much cheaper alternative than surgery.
But we understand that money is an important consideration for many families, and you may want to hold off on the procedure until you’re sure that all covered, conservative treatment options have been exhausted first.
You may need a couple of appointments.
A typical treatment course for shockwave therapy may require 2-3 sessions—sometimes more if the injury is serious. While these appointments are brief and easy—usually lasting no more than 15-20 minutes—it is slightly more inconvenient for those who are busy during the day, in comparison to single-appointment treatments like steroid injections.
That said, the upside with shockwave is that the appointments actually trigger healing in your tissues. A steroid injection may provide several months of pain relief, but only treats symptoms and the effect is temporary. So in the long run, shockwave is not only the superior choice but may also be less time consuming overall.
It isn’t for everyone.
Although shockwave therapy is extremely safe for the vast majority of patients, there are a few situations where we do not recommend the procedure. The main contraindications include:
- Certain heart conditions or pacemakers
- Taking medication that interferes with blood clotting
Additionally, if you have neuropathy or hypersensitivity in the target area, we may or may not recommend shockwave therapy, depending on the severity of your symptoms.
Is Shockwave Therapy Right for You?
If you’re suffering from chronic pain that won’t go away, or you just want the fastest possible recovery from an injury, give our office a call. We’ll help you determine if shockwave therapy would be a good fit for your comprehensive treatment plan.
To schedule an appointment with Dr. Sanjay Patel in either Milford or Hamden, CT, you can reach us at 203-876-7736. You can also fill out our online contact form—a member of our team will follow up with you shortly afterword to confirm a time.