Extracorporeal shock wave therapy (ESWT) is a method of applying energy waves to hard or soft tissue in a particular area of the body. ESWT is a non-invasive procedure that utilizes the production of acoustic sound waves to produce high pressure waves that are focused at a point of tissue or bone to stimulate healing.
When the shock waves meet interfaces of different impedance (i.e. bone/soft tissue interface) changes within the tissue are created. These include an increase in blood flow, direct cellular effects, activation of osteogenic factors (the process of laying down new bone) and a direct analgesic effect.
Developed for human use in breaking up kidney stones, the technique has been adopted by veterinarians to reduce pain and stimulate healing in some types of injuries. “Extracorporeal” refers to the fact that the treatment is given from outside the horse’s body, in contrast to oral medications, injections, or surgery that are considered more invasive.
Studies have shown that it reduces inflammation, thereby reducing pain as it promotes healing. It appears to be especially effective where ligaments attach to bone or where there is an arthritis problem. ESWT has been used successfully to treat bowed tendons, suspensory ligament injuries, stress fractures, splint bone fractures, bone spavin, navicular syndrome, overriding spines (withers), sacro-iliac conditions (Hunter Bumps), and back pain. It can be done on an out-patient basis at the hospital or at an owner’s barn. Patients are sedated and treated standing, which takes approximately 10-15 minutes once the sedation has taken effect. It customarily takes from one to three treatments (two to three weeks apart), depending upon the severity of the condition and the type of tissue being treated.