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The “Shock”-ing Truth about Pressure Waves

Many of you may be familiar with Shockwave therapy - but what are its benefits? How does it work?

Metal projectiles are used to create a vibration that generates radial and unfocused pressure waves. As energy decrease with an increase in radius, these waves then produce maximum pressure upon release. Once it enters the body, the effects of that pressure are at the surface of the skin.

The radial waves are very similar to ultrasound, where it can be described as a ripple. The bigger the rock, the most intense ripple is created. Similar in shockwave, when radial waves have increased pressure, their penetration increase as well. An increase in initial pressure could lead to better results and recovery. However, with increased pressure, the amount utilized must be controlled as having too much pressure could lead to damages and other negative side effects.


Many people may question whether radial waves are actual shock waves or not. To answer that question, radial waves are considered shockwaves from manufactures, but scientists say otherwise. As researched from the German Scientific Committee for Physics and Technology and the International Society for extra corporeal Shock Wave Therapy, it has been determined that these waves generated from shockwave therapy is not actual shockwaves. The treatment does not meet the requirement as it cannot adjust the depth of penetration to fully focus on the location of maximum shock wave energy. The pictures below demonstrate the difference in a focused shock wave and a radial shockwave.

There are also many different parameters that are measured in determining what a shockwave is. These include rise time, travel speed, as well as its pulse duration. Unfortunately, the radial pressure waves do not meet the requirements of these three parameters to be considered a shockwave as its rise time is not on par with regular shockwaves as well as its travel speed. Its pulse duration is also very slow compared to a focused shockwave which is why radial waves are not distinguished as shockwaves.

However, although it may not be classified as a shockwave, radial pressure waves are still very effective on impact with the patient skin but decreases after 1-2 cm of penetration. In conclusion, radial devices are not able to create proper shockwaves and to categorize these pressure waves as “shock wave therapy” is misleading.

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Ricky Chen, Student Author

Honours Kinesiology Co-op

Undergraduate, University of Waterloo

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