Can Shockwave Therapy Help With Elbow Pain?
Updated: Aug 22
Extracorporeal shockwave therapy (ESWT) is a relatively new treatment option that was originally created as a treatment for kidney stones. Since then, there has been a growing body of evidence that ESWT can be an effective treatment for a wide range of musculoskeletal conditions and injuries.
What Is Shockwave Therapy?
Shockwave therapy uses high-pressure shortwave pulses that are passed through the skin to the affected area through the use of a special device that is held against the skin. Research is still ongoing as to how the pulses work and it seems to be through a combination of different processes.
The shockwaves seem to have an immediate painkilling effect which makes shockwave therapy one of the few treatments that begins to work immediately. They also increase blood flow to the area and stimulate the body's natural healing processes, as well as increasing the regeneration of cells.
The side effects of shockwave therapy are minimal and include a short-term reddening and swelling of the skin that reduces quite quickly after the treatment session has ended. Ultrasound guidance can be used to make sure that the shockwaves are directed precisely to the affected area.
How Can Shockwave Therapy Help With Elbow Pain?
Elbow injuries can interfere with your ability to carry out daily tasks and can be very painful. One of the most common causes of elbow pain is tennis elbow, also known as lateral epicondylitis. Tennis elbow involves pain and inflammation on the outside of the elbow. The pain can be worse when you are lifting or bending your arm, gripping small objects, or twisting your arm. You may also experience weakness, numbness, and difficulty with extending your arm. It is usually caused by overuse of the muscles near the elbow that attach to your wrist
Shockwave therapy is a newer treatment for tennis elbow that shows promising results. Usual treatments are rest, painkillers, anti-inflammatory drugs, and occasionally physical therapy. A meta-analysis that looked at a combination of studies into shockwave therapy as a treatment for tennis elbow found that it results in a reduction of pain, an increased grip strength, and a self-perceived increase in functionality.
The treatment works for elbow pain through a combination of pain-relieving effects, by stimulating the pain receptors, and through the cavitation effect. The latter is where tiny gas bubbles are created by the shockwaves which then burst. This can help to break down adhesions in the area which could be contributing to tennis elbow. In extreme cases, surgery is required to remove these tissues, so shockwave therapy can help to reduce the necessity of surgical intervention.
Shockwave therapy can also be used as a treatment for other causes of elbow pain, such as osteoarthritis. It can reduce the pain and disability associated with osteoarthritis through the same pain-killing effects as with tennis elbow, and it can also help to regenerate the cartilage and improve bone density.
Shockwave therapy has been gaining traction in recent years as an effective therapy for a wide range of musculoskeletal conditions and injuries, including those that affect the elbow. It is non-invasive and drug-free and it can help to reduce the need for surgery.