Veterinary Teaching Hospital

Extracorporeal Shock Wave Treatment (ESWT)

The Virginia-Maryland College of Veterinary Medicine provides shock wave therapy to equine patients in our hospital and on the farm through our equine field service. If you have questions about our services, please contact us.

  • For in-hospital treatment, please call 540-231-4621 and select option 5.
  • For on-farm treatment, please call 540-231-9042.
shock wave therapy

What is shock wave therapy?

Extracorporeal shockwaves are high pressure sound waves used for therapeutic purposes. Shockwave therapy was originally developed to treat kidney stones in humans. The veterinary community has taken this technology and applied shockwave to orthopedic conditions.

In equine field services we use a High Medical Technologies (HMT) – Versatron that generates electrohydraulic shock waves (waves with a large focal volume). There has been some research directed at explaining the exact mechanism of shockwave. Some studies have shown it to be pain relieving; others have shown that there are some changes at a microscopic level such as neovascularization and changes in cytokines. Although the exact mechanism has not been proven, there is a volume of anecdotal evidence that suggests that it is an alternative therapy that can be considered for a variety of musculoskeletal problems.

What conditions respond to shock wave therapy?

Shockwave can be used for:

  • Tendonitis (suspensories, flexor tendons)
  • Joint disease (ringbone, meniscal tears)
  • Navicular disease
  • Sacro-illiac/sore backs

Before any treatment, the horse should first have a full lameness exam/ work up. This can be accomplished by scheduling a farm call by equine field services. A veterinarian would come to the farm and do a thorough physical exam and observe the horse move. This is best accomplished in an area that is flat with consistent footing. Next, nerve blocks or intra-articular blocks would most likely be done to help localize the area that is causing the unsoundness. Finally, radiology, ultrasound, or a bone scan can be used to arrive at a diagnosis. Equine field services has a digital radiology unit and a portable ultrasound available for onsite imaging. However, the horse would have to be brought to the Veterinary Teaching Hospital for a bone scan.

What is the procedure?

If shockwave therapy is pursued, a schedule of treatment would be planned using a unit that is portable and can be brought to the farm.

  • The shockwave delivers a mildly uncomfortable stimulus, so the horse is usually sedated.
  • The site of the injury is cleaned and contact gel is applied.
  • A probe that treats at the appropriate depth is chosen, and then 800 to 2000 shocks are applied.
  • Treatment is generally repeated at two to three week intervals for three to five sessions.

The horse should be rested for the first week after treatment, then gradually returned to work depending on the underlying injury. If unsoundness persists or the injury requires longer recovery time, the horse would be rested the entire time between treatments.