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5 musculoskeletal conditions shock wave therapy can treat effectively

One option that shows promise for a variety of issues related to the muscles and bones is shock wave therapy. Does it have a place in your practice?

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), some of the most common health issues today include heart disease, stroke, cancer, type 2 diabetes, obesity and arthritis.

In fact, major medical issues such as these are thought to afflict almost half of all American adults, or 117 million people in total.

However, there is one other health concern that is right up there in numbers, yet isn’t often discussed: musculoskeletal conditions. In fact, the U.S. Bone and Joint Initiative (BJI) indicates that this category of issues impacts roughly the same amount of people as the more well-known chronic health concerns.

Musculoskeletal conditions by the numbers

In fairness, musculoskeletal issues aren’t necessarily the life or death matters as the other concerns listed, but they can be just as devastating to the people they afflict. In regard to cost alone, the BJI, which is part of the Global Alliance for Musculoskeletal Health, states that this category of conditions costs around $213 billion annually in both direct and indirect care.

The BJI also reports that musculoskeletal issues “rank first among diseases using measures of disability; visits to physicians’ offices; and among impairments” in the U.S., impacting one out of every two Americans. Worldwide, they are the second-most common cause of disability.

Furthermore, the BJI suggests that these types of impairments are only going to increase in the years ahead. This is partially due to the aging population as, by the year 2040, approximately 20 percent of all Americans are expected to be 65 or older.

While treatment modalities vary by the type, severity, and cause of the musculoskeletal condition at hand, one option that shows promise for a variety of issues related to the muscles and bones is shock wave therapy.

Shock wave therapy is effective for multiple musculoskeletal conditions

In a 2012 study published in Muscle, Ligaments and Tendons Journal, researchers indicated that this particular treatment remedy has a 60 to 80 percent success rate when it comes to five different musculoskeletal issues specifically. They are:

1. Epicondylitis. This diagnosis is made if there is an inflammation of the tendons surrounding the epicondyle, or the place where tendons and ligaments attach to the bone. Two of the more well-known epicondylitis issues are lateral epicondylitis (also called “tennis elbow”) and medial epicondylitis (“golfer’s elbow”).

In a 2012 study published by Northern Clinics of Istanbul, shock wave therapy was used on 12 patients with diagnosed cases of lateral epicondylitis. After three shock wave therapy sessions (once per week for three weeks), the subjects reported less pain, higher function of the affected area as supported by increased grip strength and, ultimately, a higher quality of life.

2. Plantar fasciitis. The most common cause of heel pain, plantar fasciitis affects roughly 10 percent of the U.S. population according to Medscape. However, research has found that this musculoskeletal issue has also seen positive results with regard to shock wave therapy.

For instance, a placebo-controlled trial published in the Journal of Research in Medical Studies involved 40 individuals who had experienced heel pain and plantar fascia tenderness for at least three months. For three weeks, one half were treated with shock wave therapy and the other half had placebo or sham treatments.

Upon conclusion of the study, researchers found that the plantar fascia thickness of the treatment group was “significantly decreased” whereas it was “slightly increased” for the placebo group. Additionally, at the three month follow-up, the treatment group also had “significantly lower” levels of pain when compared to the group who received sham treatments.

3. Cuff tendinitis. This musculoskeletal condition references issues with the rotator cuff and, again, research has found that this type of injury often responds favorably to shock wave therapy treatments.

One example is a 2017 study published in the journal Medicine. It involved 84 individuals with chronic rotator cuff tendonitis and, for those who received shock wave therapy (which was half), they reportedly experienced greater levels of pain relief as well as improved shoulder function.

4. Trocanteritis. Also called trochanteric bursitis, this is inflammation of the bursa in the hip, causing pain that can make completing even the simplest tasks more difficult. Everyday actions such as walking and even sitting can cause a high degree of discomfort.

In 2009, the American Journal of Sports Medicine published a study about various treatment remedies for greater trochanter pain syndrome, which often involves the same bursa. When researchers compared corticosteroid injection with home training or shock wave therapy, they discovered that, after four months of treatment, shock wave therapy provided “significantly better results” than the other two options.

5. Achilles tendinitis. Also commonly referred to as “jumper’s knee,” Achilles tendinitis occurs when there is repeated stress on the Achilles tendon and several studies have found that shock wave therapy can help this condition as well.

For example, a systematic review published by Foot & Ankle International found that shock wave therapy can provide positive results within three months, making it an option to consider before surgical intervention. Plus, when combined with eccentric loading, it is more effective yet.

Certainly, shock wave therapy isn’t a one-size-fits-all treatment remedy for musculoskeletal issues. However, it may be one worth considering, especially when facing one of these five diagnoses.

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