Shock wave therapy (also known as extracorporeal shock wave) is a cutting edge form of treatment in the world of sports medicine. Its a very similar technology to that used to “blast” kidney and gallstones, and does not involve electrical shocks (don’t panic, this isn’t the dark ages) but rather mechanical pulses, similar to sound waves.
Although the physiological mechanism of how exactly this mechanical pulse works is still not fully understood, the research shows us that the “waves” cause microtrauma and inflammation, stimulating the formation of new blood vessels and nerve cells, and speeding up healing of tissue. There is also a positive effect on reducing pain through a pain gate mechanism.
In other words, it improves blood supply and speeds up tissue regeneration!
So why is this so amazing you ask?
Well basically its taking something the body would normally do on its own, and speeds it up significantly, without the need for injections or surgery. Numerous medical research reports have shown that shockwave therapy can be 80-90% effective at completely and rapidly resolving injuries within 3-6 applications.
The most significant application in sports medicine is in the treatment of chronic tendon, muscle and joint conditions. So things like:
Tennis elbow/ Golfers elbow
Rotator cuff tendinopathy
Muscle knots and trigger points
ITB friction syndrome
Chronic ligament pain
And even more conditions are healing in weeks instead of months…
It is particularly effective in breaking down the calcification of tendons, commonly seen in the shoulders, as can be seen in the x-rays below…
As technology and techniques improve, so will we find new uses for shock wave therapy. In fact, I chatted to a Doctor at one of the top SA rugby teams, who said they use shock wave to treat nearly all injuries on their players and are getting fantastic results.
Already studies show that in bone fractures that either wont heal quickly, or at all, the application of a single shock wave treatment was effective in causing fracture healing in 87% of patients.
It also has applications in the healing of diabetic foot ulcers, treating cardiac chest pain and erectile dysfunction…but don’t come to me for that!
So if you, or anyone you know has one of the above conditions, give us a call to see if Shock Wave Therapy might be the treatment for you…
I’m sure you’ve heard of the term “tendonitis” before, and you probably know of someone who has (or had) “tendonitis” of the elbow I.e. Tennis or Golfers’ elbow. Technically they are wrong, and it could be hampering their recovery!!
In actual fact, tendonitis is a very short lived and infrequent tendon condition. What they most likely have is actually TENDINOSIS, or otherwise known as a tendinopathy.
So what’s the big difference you ask? Well, medical terms that end in “itis” usually indicate inflammation and swelling, however in these tendon conditions, no inflammatory cells are present. This then has a direct impact on the way in which we treat the condition. So if you or your friend has tendinosis, taking anti-inflammatory medication is actually having no effect, and you may as well be taking Smarties instead…
If its not inflammation, then what is it exactly?
Without getting too technical, the substance that makes up tendons (collagen) is in a big tangled mess instead of a nice, neat and tight parallel bundles of fibers. There is also increased fluid around the fibers and lots of small, poor quality blood vessels. This can occur in various tendons, but the most commonly affected are those of the elbow (Golfers’ and Tennis Elbow), knee (Jumper’s knee), hip and ankle (Achilles Tendinosis).
So if you shouldn’t take anti-inflammatories, what should you do?
Tendinosis is usually as a result of repeated OVERloading of the tendon and therefore the CAUSE of your problem needs to be addressed. It could be as simple as a lack of rotation at the shoulder that could be causing your tennis elbow, or over-pronation at your ankle causing Achilles tendinopathy. Your physio should evaluate all likely factors and address these to prevent re-occurrence of your injury.
Where previously we were concerned not to inflame the tendon, treatment now focuses on actually CAUSING an inflammatory reaction, thus increasing blood supply and stimulating healing. Although painful, eccentric loading exercises are the “gold standard” of treatment to improve these conditions.
Nitric oxide donor patches and Shock wave therapy have some evidence to suggest they work, and a relatively new technique known as PRP (platelet rich plasma) injections (a topic we will discuss in future posts) are showing positive short term results at reducing pain and improving function.
I would highly recommend wearing a counterforce brace or getting strapped, as this will reducing the mechanical load on the tendon and alleviate pain.
One last thing you need to know. Tendon injuries usually take a long time to heal, especially if you’ve had it for months, so be prepared for some rehab and don’t wait till your pain is excruciating before you seek medical advice.