Equine Shockwave: What Is It & What Does It Do?

Extracorporeal shockwave therapy, or shockwave, is a non-invasive technique using sound waves to stimulate healing in wounds, ligaments, tendons, and bony structures.  It is thought to increase blood flow circulation and growth of blood vessels to the treated area.  By doing this, natural healing factors are then able to get to the affected area and decrease inflammation and help stimulate healing.  In addition to stimulating healing by this manner, it also provides some mild, short term pain relief.

Shockwave is commonly used in cases of suspensory ligament disease, tendon disease, back pain, bone bruising, painful splints, bucked shins, and navicular syndrome.  Horses are often sedated for this procedure and usually it lasts no longer than 30 minutes.  The area that is receiving treatment is cleaned and a gel applied to help the sound waves get transmitted from the transducer probe.  The transducer is then applied to the area and emits high-energy sound waves.  The intensity of the shocks and the proper number of impulses that the horse is treated with depends on the area affected.  Typically the deeper the tissue the affected, the greater the number of impulses and energy required.

Many different types of shockwave exist and not all are created equal.  Blue Ridge Equine Clinic uses a system which generates an electrohydraulic shockwave which allows this system to penetrate deeper than many other systems.  Also this system has multiple different probes that allow it to treat different focal areas depending on the condition being treated while generating a true shockwave at all energy settings.  Appropriate focal area, along with effective shockwave penetration together create the most effective shockwave for our medical purposes.

Currently most racing jurisdictions prohibit the use of shockwave within 5-7 days of racing, and the FEI prohibits the use of shockwave within 5 days of competition. The USEF recommends a three day withdrawal period before competition, although it may be administered by a veterinarian no closer than 12 hours before competition and only in the application to the back and dorsal pelvis areas.  It is due to the pain relief effect of shockwave that these time periods have been chosen.

In addition to proper rest and rehab, shockwave can be a very useful adjunct therapy in many cases of lameness and orthopedic disease.  In many cases insurance will allow up to three treatments of shockwave if recommended by the veterinarian.  Please contact your veterinarian if you have any questions regarding shockwave.