What is Shockwave Therapy?

Shockwave therapy, or pressure wave therapy, is a noninvasive surgical procedure that uses sound waves to stimulate healing in some physical disorders, including plantar fasciitis.  Because there is no incision, shockwave therapy offers two main advantages over traditional surgical methods: fewer potential complications and a faster return to normal activity. Shockwave therapy has been used extensively for several years to treat plantar fasciitis and other disorders.

What is Plantar Fasciitis?

Plantar fasciitis is the most common form of heel pain. This painful condition results from inflammation of the plantar fascia-the connective tissue that stretches from the heel bone, across the arch, and to the base of the toes. Plantar fasciitis is sometimes also called heel spur syndrome when a spur (bony protrusion) is present.

Albuquerque Experienced Shockwave Specialist | Image of an x-ray of the foot and ankle
Who is a Candidate for Shockwave Therapy?

Shockwave therapy may be considered as a therapeutic option for the patient whose heel pain has not resolved with conservative treatment. Conservative measures include the use of anti-inflammatory medications, steroid injections, ice packs, stretching exercises, orthotic devices (shoe inserts), and physical therapy.

Some patients should not be treated with shockwave therapy. The procedure is not appropriate for patients who have a bleeding disorder or take medications that may prolong bleeding or interfere with clotting. Your foot and ankle surgeon will determine if the procedure is appropriate for you based on your medical history.

What to Expect With Shockwave Therapy?

In preparation for shockwave therapy, the foot and ankle surgeon will instruct the patient to stop taking any anti-inflammatory medications (for example, aspirin or ibuprofen) for about five days before the procedure. 

Shockwave therapy is performed on an outpatient basis, so it does not require an overnight stay in the hospital. Before the procedure begins, the patient is comfortably positioned and may receive local and/or sedation anesthesia. The treatment may take up to 5 minutes per foot. During the procedure sound waves penetrate the heel area and stimulate the healing response. Sometimes more than one session is needed to adequately treat the inflammation and reduce the patient’s symptoms.

Picture of a doctor performing shockwave therapy | Albuquerque Experienced Shockwave Specialist    picture of a doctor using shockwave therapy on a patient | Albuquerque Experienced Shockwave Specialist

After the Procedure

Instructions may include:

  • No excessive walking or standing the day of the procedure.
  • Resume gentle stretching exercises the day following the procedure.
  • Avoid taking any anti-inflammatory medication, such as ibuprofen or aspirin, for up to four weeks after PWT.
  • Avoid heavy lifting until the surgeon approves resuming this activity.
  • You may walk on the foot.
  • Avoid running or other high impact exercise or excessive activity.
  • Avoid going barefoot during the healing process.
  • Wear supportive shoes.
  • In some cases, orthotic devices (shoe inserts) will be prescribed.

Although patipicture of a doctor at New Mexico Foot & Ankle Institute performing shockwave therapy |  Albuquerque Experienced Shockwave Specialistents sometimes feel they can return to normal activities right away, the surgeon will determine when that is appropriate for your situation. It is important to use caution and follow the doctor’s instructions to avoid injuring the treated foot. Because shockwave therapy temporarily reduces or eliminates the sensation of pain, patients sometimes become too active too soon.

Shockwave therapy is very safe and effective, but every procedure can carry the possibility of complications. In addition to mild pain and tingling or numbness, bruising and swelling sometimes develop after treatment. There have also been reports of rupture of the plantar fascia and damage to the blood vessels or nerves.

 Shockwave Therapy in the Future

 Like many other innovative noninvasive therapies, shockwave therapy is an evolving technology. As the body of information on this technique continues to expand, the result will be additional uses for shockwave therapy that will benefit more patients in the future.  The addition of platelet rich plasma or amniotic stem cell injections may also greatly enhance the benefits of this treatment.

Nathan Ivey
Experienced Albuquerque podiatrist specializing in preventing and treating foot and ankle pain.