Alternative Veterinary Therapies: Shockwave

Justin, although he is my fur child, is also an athlete. I ask a lot of him and his body in training, and eventing is a high-intensity sport no matter the level. This, combined with his rising age and known history, means he gets regular maintenance to make sure he is comfortable and can preform his best.

He’s been showing signs of back soreness in recent weeks, and our vet confirmed he has some spine reactivity. This could mean some arthritis-related issues down the road (which is no surprise – we know he has arthritis elsewhere), but our vet said it might be time to look at options of alleviating or reducing this back pain, and he suggested shockwave therapy – properly known as Extracorporeal shock wave therapy (ESWT).

A horse nerd through-and-through I wanted to share the experience because I hadn’t seen this used before.


Mom, wut is that thing?

From Scott Swerdlin, DVM, MRCVS, via The Horse:

“Extracorporeal shock wave therapy (ESWT) focuses a highly concentrated, powerful acoustical (sound) energy source to a focal area. The shock waves induce increased activity of bone-producing cells and might also lead to increased circulation in the focal region. As a result, the focal area undergoes a more rapid healing process than if left untreated. In addition, an analgesic (pain-killing) effect has been clearly demonstrated after treatment.”

From my personal research, it looks like there isn’t so much concrete science for vets to slap the “It works!” sticker on their shockwave machines, but popular opinion is that many see a positive result in orthopedic injuries. My vet specifically has seen success in previous cases regarding back pain, so I decided it was worth a try.

Justin was lightly sedated, and the vet said this is because some horses can have a very strong reaction to the shockwaves, so it helps keep them calm, and the vets safe, especially in their first treatment. Similar to an ultrasound procedure, a gel is applied to the area for better contact.


Mahm – it’s cold!

The “wand” is pressed against the area as the machine begins the pulses, which I have understood to be of similar nature as ultrasounds, but more like ultrasounds on crack. The machine is much louder than I expected, but Justin didn’t seem to mind. Here’s a quick video of what it sounded like:

The procedure lasted around 10 minutes, and it was set on 1,500 pulses. She took the probe along the reactive area, and focused on spots that were identified as more painful. You could tell which areas were more painful, because as the probe went across those areas, the surrounding muscles began twitching. It was really interesting to watch!


Besides at my vet’s suggestion, I was also interested in this therapy because it was non-invasive. Though injections for certain areas can be helpful, I obviously want to do the least amount of poking joints with needles as possible!

I was told that in the initial days, horses get a huge surge of pain relief, so we took it easy for a few days, and they said if he was a successful patient that I would start seeing positive results in the following weeks.

One reason why I like the idea of this treatment option is that it’s non-invasive. I’m a big fan of alternative therapies, and it’s exciting to see veterinary medicine is beginning to have so many options for maintenance of sport horses. My goal remains to keep Justin happy and healthy, and this was a new tool to hopefully keep that goal a reality.

*Both vets approved of photos and video being taken and used for this blog. 

What do you think? Have you had any experiences with shockwave therapy? Do you utilize other alternative therapies?  





8 thoughts on “Alternative Veterinary Therapies: Shockwave

  1. stampyandthebrain says:

    I wrote about this on my blog at the time but don’t think I ever really came back with results. I did shockwave on my back arthritis horse (three treatments) and while I do think he showed improvement in the days afterwards it was not long lasting and ultimately unhelpful. Will be interested to see if you have better luck with your horse.

    For my horse the biggest helpful changes have been a custom CWD, a heavy focus on mobility in the spine during rides, and jumping only minimally. He is also on daily Previcox. Good luck!


    • shelbyrallen says:

      Interesting. Yeah saddle fitter is next on the list. Justin’s saddle is custom, but it has been a few years since purchasing and his body has had a lot of changes, so I’m sure it would be helpful! It was a really interesting procedure, so I’ll be sure to post down the road on the effects!


  2. Jenn says:

    Thank you sharing this!
    I’ve heard of ESWT being used in the upper levels by pros, but it’s really neat that you got to use it on Justin! Like you, I’m a huge fan of non-invasive treatments, and I was always curious about how it actually worked. Hopefully you and Justin will notice a marked improvement, and he can stay comfortable as long as possible 🙂


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


Connecting to %s