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Pressure vs shock waves: is there an (important) difference?

 •  • by Paul Ingraham
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Weekly nuggets of pain science news and insight, usually 100-300 words, with the occasional longer post. The blog is the “director’s commentary” on the core content of a library of major articles and books about common painful problems and popular treatments. See the blog archives or updates for the whole site.

Maybe. Probably not. Neither is revolutionizing pain treatment anyway.

There are several different types of extracorporeal shockwave therapy. One of them, radial shockwave therapy, is often called “shockwave” therapy, but probably shouldn’t be, because it uses much lower velocity waves. True shockwave therapies use waves travelling faster than the speed of sound (in flesh), about 1500 meters per second. Radial shockwave therapy is a couple orders of magnitude slower, and would be more properly described as a pressure wave therapy.

It’s probably not quite fair to lump them all in together when assessing shockwave therapy … but I’m going to do it anyway for now (in my ultrasound article). Until such time as there’s compelling evidence that one flavour has impressively different and better effects than another, it’s all just variations on a theme: stimulating tissues with different sorts of sound waves. Does that seem reasonable?