The term Shock wave Therapy usually makes people jump. No, this is not electric shock therapy. It is extracorporeal shockwave therapy (ESWT). Shockwaves are sound waves that create vibrations and cause controlled injury to the tissue. In this case, the plantar fascia and the surrounding structures at the heel. The body responds by increasing it’s healing ability at that area, stimulating a repair process. The FDA approved ESWT for the treatment for plantar fasciitis in 2000, but it still remains under investigation and many insurance companies will not cover this treatment.
The procedure is typically done at a surgery center and in some cases involves using anesthesia or some sedation. Full healing time after the procedure generally takes about three months. There are very few complications associated with ESWT, but a few that have been reported include bruising, hematomas, skin erosion, swelling and paresthesias (abnormal nerve sensations).
A recent Study in the Journal of Foot & Ankle Surgery compared ESWT versus a sham procedure in 172 patients. The researchers found a statistically significant benefit of ESWT over the sham treatment and the patients experienced no significant complications or side effects.
The 172 participants were divided randomly into two groups, a control group and an active ESWT group. The ESWT group included 115 patients with plantar fasciitis and underwent shockwave therapy. The control group included 57 patients with plantar fasciitis who had a sham treatment. All patients were brought into the procedure room and The Orthospec (ESWT device) was used to apply shockwaves to the heel area. The placebo group had a foam membrane placed against the heel to absorb the sounds waves, while the active ESWT group had only a contact membrane on the heel. The procedure lasted 25 minutes for both groups. Although the administrator of the shockwave therapy was not blinded, the investigators evaluating the patients, before and after the procedure, were blinded.