Simply put, extracorporeal shockwaves stimulate certain components within the body so the body is able to heal. And ESWT is able to accomplish this even in chronic cases, when the body has demonstrated a previous unwillingness or inability to do so by itself.
In addition to stimulating the healing process, ESWT seems to have a direct effect on nerves, diminishing pain.
Many traditional therapies–such as anti-inflammatory medications, steroid injections, physiotherapy, massage, acupuncture, and so forth-can assist the body during the early, acute phase of an injury. However, they are much less effective in assisting the body to heal when an injury becomes chronic. As an example, many patients can relate to a history where a steroid injection (like cortisone) seemed to be effective in resolving pain early in their healing process, but subsequent injections were much less effective. This isn’t really surprising when you realize that a chronic-state, degenerative injury isn’t likely to respond well to a medication designed to affect an acute-phase, inflammatory condition.
What makes ESWT unique is that it is one of the very few technologies in any field of medicine that seems to work best when an injury reaches the chronic, non-healing state. ESWT appears to be able to jump start the healing process in chronic, non-healing injuries and move them back into the acute phase of healing.