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Putting an End to Heel Pain: Is ESWT the Answer?

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Heel pain can be a debilitating condition, affecting your daily routine and quality of life. Traditional treatment methods may work for some, but for others, the search for relief can seem never-ending. Enter Extracorporeal Shock Wave Therapy (ESWT), a non-invasive procedure that has shown promising results in treating various musculoskeletal conditions, including chronic heel pain.

If you’ve been grappling with relentless heel discomfort and are looking for an effective solution, this discussion on ESWT might shed light on a potential way forward.

Understanding Heel Pain

Before we delve into the potential solutions for heel pain, such as Extracorporeal Shock Wave Therapy (ESWT), it’s important to first understand what heel pain is and why it occurs. Heel pain is a common issue that can severely impact a person’s mobility and quality of life. It usually presents as a sharp, stabbing, or throbbing sensation in the heel, often worse upon waking up in the morning or after periods of rest.

Elderly person holding his foot due to heel pain

There are several possible causes of heel pain:

  • Plantar Fasciitis: This is the most common cause and is due to inflammation of the plantar fascia, the band of tissue connecting the heel bone to the toes.
  • Heel Bursitis: Inflammation of the back of the heel, where the bursa (a small sac filled with fluid) gets inflamed.
  • Achilles Tendinitis: This results from overuse or injury to the Achilles tendon, the large tendon at the back of the ankle.
  • Heel Spurs: These are calcium deposits that cause a bony protrusion on the underside of the heel bone.

Understanding the root cause of your heel pain is crucial for selecting the most effective treatment method. As we proceed, we’ll explore how ESWT may offer a viable solution for these various causes of heel pain.

Related: A Step-by-Step Approach to Managing Heel Pain: From Diagnosis to Treatment

Traditional Treatments for Heel Pain

Before we delve into the potential of Extracorporeal Shock Wave Therapy (ESWT) as a solution for heel pain, let’s explore the traditional treatments that have been commonly used to address this issue.

  • Rest and Ice: The simplest form of treatment is rest and applying ice on the affected area. This helps reduce inflammation and ease pain, particularly for conditions like plantar fasciitis and Achilles tendinitis.
  • Pain Relief Medications: Over-the-counter non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs), such as ibuprofen, can help reduce pain and inflammation.
  • Physical Therapy: Physical therapists can provide exercises to stretch the plantar fascia and Achilles tendon and strengthen lower leg muscles, which stabilize your ankle and heel.
  • Orthotics: Custom-fitted arch supports (orthotics) can help distribute pressure more evenly when you walk, alleviating some of the strain on the heel.
  • Corticosteroid Injections: If pain persists, doctors may recommend a steroid injection into the heel. However, this is usually a last resort due to potential side effects.

While these traditional treatments are effective for many people, they don’t work for everyone. In our next section, we’ll discuss how ESWT could be a promising alternative for those who haven’t found relief through these means.

Related: From Plantar Fasciitis to Heel Spurs: Dealing with the Most Common Causes of Heel Pain

Introduction to ESWT (Extracorporeal Shock Wave Therapy)

After discussing traditional treatments for heel pain, let’s now shift our focus to an innovative method that has been gaining traction in recent years – Extracorporeal Shock Wave Therapy (ESWT).

ESWT is a non-invasive treatment that uses high-energy shock waves to treat various musculoskeletal conditions. The term ‘extracorporeal’ means ‘outside of the body’, indicating that the shock waves are generated outside the body and then transmitted into the area of pain. Here’s a brief overview of how ESWT works:

  • Shock Wave Generation: A device generates shock waves that are directed at a specific point on the body.
  • Transmission to the Painful Area: The shock waves pass through the skin and reach the targeted painful tissues.
  • Healing Response: The shock waves stimulate the body’s natural healing response, promoting tissue regeneration and reducing inflammation.

ESWT has been used to treat a variety of conditions, including kidney stones and certain heart conditions. However, its application in treating heel pain, specifically plantar fasciitis and Achilles tendinitis, has shown promising results, which we’ll explore in the following sections.

ESWT vs Traditional Treatments

Now that we’ve explored both traditional treatments and Extracorporeal Shock Wave Therapy (ESWT) for heel pain, let’s draw a comparison to help you better understand the potential advantages of ESWT.

  • Effectiveness: While traditional treatments like rest, icing, pain relief medications, physical therapy, and orthotics often bring relief, they may not work for everyone. ESWT, on the other hand, has shown promising results in numerous cases where traditional methods were ineffective.
  • Invasiveness: Traditional treatments are generally non-invasive, except for corticosteroid injections which carry potential side effects. ESWT is also a non-invasive procedure, making it a safe alternative to invasive surgical options.
  • Recovery Time: Traditional treatments often require a regular regimen over a prolonged period to see significant improvement. With ESWT, patients usually report pain relief after a few sessions and complete recovery often occurs within 12 weeks.
  • Pain During Treatment: Some traditional treatments, especially corticosteroid injections, can be painful. ESWT can cause mild discomfort during the procedure, but this is typically short-lived and bearable.

In conclusion, while traditional treatments remain an important first-line approach, ESWT could be a highly effective, non-invasive, and fast-acting alternative for those struggling with persistent heel pain. It’s always best to discuss these options with your healthcare provider to determine the most suitable treatment for your specific condition.

Related: Heel Pain Demystified: Exploring Advanced Treatment Options and Their Benefits

The Procedure and Aftercare of ESWT

Understanding the procedure and aftercare of Extracorporeal Shock Wave Therapy (ESWT) is crucial to know what to expect when considering this treatment.

The Procedure

  • ESWT is typically an outpatient procedure, meaning you won’t need to stay overnight in a hospital.
  • You’ll be asked to lie down on a table, and a gel will be applied to your skin over the area to be treated. This helps the shock waves reach the targeted tissues more effectively.
  • A device is then used to deliver the shock waves. The process is guided by ultrasound or X-ray imaging to ensure precision.
  • The procedure usually lasts about 30 minutes.


Following the procedure, it’s important to adhere to the following aftercare instructions:

  • Rest the treated area for at least 48 hours. Avoid strenuous activities that could strain your heel.
  • Apply ice to the treated area if you experience any discomfort or swelling.
  • Over-the-counter pain relievers can be used if necessary.
  • Physical therapy might be recommended to help rehabilitate the area and strengthen the surrounding muscles.
  • Follow up with your doctor for a check-up after the procedure to assess your progress.

Remember, everyone’s recovery journey is different. Some may experience immediate relief, while others might see gradual improvement over several weeks. It’s crucial to maintain communication with your healthcare provider throughout the process to ensure optimal recovery.

Related: Walk Without Worry: Expert Tips for Preventing and Alleviating Heel Pain

Who Should Consider ESWT?

Now that we’ve delved into what ESWT is and how it works, the question arises – who should consider this treatment?

Extracorporeal Shock Wave Therapy (ESWT) could be an effective treatment option for individuals who:

  • Have chronic heel pain that has persisted for six months or more despite traditional treatments.
  • Are suffering from conditions like plantar fasciitis or Achilles tendinitis.
  • Are seeking a non-invasive alternative to surgery.
  • Are able to commit to the aftercare instructions to ensure optimal recovery.

However, ESWT might not be suitable for everyone. Individuals with certain medical conditions, pregnant women, and those who take blood thinners or have a pacemaker may need to consider other options.

It’s important to remember that every case is unique. Therefore, the decision to proceed with ESWT should always be made in consultation with a healthcare provider who can assess your individual situation and guide you towards the most appropriate treatment plan.

If you’re considering ESWT as a solution for your heel pain, our team at Mid-Ohio Foot and Ankle Specialists would be more than happy to discuss your options and help you take the first step toward a pain-free life. Contact us today to schedule an appointment.

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