BOSTON (CBS) — Shoulder pain is one of the most common reasons people go to the doctor and rotator cuff injuries are one of the most common causes of shoulder pain.
While most cases are treated with rest, pain killers and physical therapy, a new study out of Tufts Medical Center shows shock wave therapy could be the answer for some.
The therapy involves administering sound wave pulses on the outside of the body. It has been used for years to break up “kidney stones” and now doctors in Europe are using it to treat rotator cuff tendonitis.
“We found that high energy shock wave therapy is very useful for patients with specifically calcific tendonitis of the shoulder,” said Dr. Raveendhara Bannuru of Tufts Medical.
Bannuru looked at 28 studies using shock wave therapy to treat rotator cuff injuries. He found that the procedure worked, but only for people who had calcium deposits in their shoulders.
“High energy shock wave therapy can decrease the pain and also improve function and can completely resolve these calcifications,” he said.
A significant percentage of patients with chronic shoulder pain do form calcium deposits in their joints.
“Usually these kinds of calcifications are formed in people who kind of overuse their shoulders like workers who do a lot of lifting or people who play a lot of sports like a tennis player or any racquet ball players,” Bannuru said.
Shock wave therapy hasn’t been approved by the FDA for use on shoulder pain. A few patients who have had it done reported minor soreness or redness, but few side effects – a welcome change compared to other treatments used like anti-inflammatory medication which can upset the stomach and surgery which can be painful and carries a risk of complication.
“We felt like this was more non-invasive because it means you’re not opening up anything and it could cure it,” he said.
If approved in the U.S., the same therapy could be used for injuries like Plantar Fasciitis and Tennis Elbow.