The medical potential of shock waves has not been fully explored yet

30 years of shock waves in medicine

Tägerwilen/Switzerland, 15 December 2010 – Only 30 years have passed since the first kidney stone patient was treated successfully with shock waves. What started as an experiment is now a success story: patients from around the globe benefit from the treatment with shock waves. Today the waves have a wide range of application and physicians use them not only in urology but also in orthopaedics, cardiology, dermatology and veterinary medicine. New research results in the fields of wound healing and neurologic diseases show that shock waves will become even more important in the future.

(Picture Left: Lithotripter 1981, Dornier, Middle: Lithotripter 2010, STORZ MEDICAL, Right: Treatment of calcific tendinitis of the shoulder with focused shock wave handpiece)

The first patient

Munich, February 1980: at the university hospital of the LMU Munich physicians treat a kidney stone patient with a new method for the first time. Instead of removing the stone surgically they want to break up the stone with shock waves. The principle behind the technology: shock waves are high-energy, audible acoustic waves. They occur in the atmosphere, for example during lightning or when a plane breaks the sound barrier. When disintegrating kidney stones, shock waves are generated outside the body and transmitted to the stone inside the body. When the energy reaches the kidney stone, the stone is fragmented into small pieces that then can naturally leave the body. The experiment at the university hospital in Munich was successful. Shortly after the first treatment the so-called extracorporeal shock wave lithotripsy (ESWL) was regarded as a revolution. The thousandth patient was treated in 1984 and until today millions of other patients have been treated as well. Since then, the medical potential of shock waves has been explored continuously.

Shock waves for the treatment of pain

Orthopaedists and sports physicians discovered the versatile waves in the early 1990s. They found out that shock waves do not only disintegrate stones but also initiate healing processes when transmitted into painful body areas. This effect, however, requires far lower shock wave energy levels. Bones, muscles, tendon insertions, shoulders, or heels: painful conditions like tennis or golfer's elbow, calcific tendinitis of the shoulder, heel spur, as well as chronic shoulder or neck pain can be treated gently and quickly. Today, patients around the world are treated with shock waves, especially when conservative therapies fail to have an effect. By relying on shock wave therapy, patients can avoid surgery and do not have to stay in the hospital for a long time.

New developments

By chance it was discovered that shock waves can also be used in dermatology and aesthetic medicine. In these medical fields they are known as "acoustic wave therapy" (AWT). During the treatment of athletes, physicians found out that acoustic waves also have a skin-tightening effect and that they strengthen connective tissue. In recent years physicians have been successfully using them to treat scars, pregnancy stretch marks and cellulite. Another interesting development is that cardiologists have also discovered the waves and use them to treat refractory angina pectoris.

Although shock wave therapy is firmly established in various fields of medicine today, further fields of application are being researched. Manfred Schulz of Storz Medical, a company that develops shock wave systems, says: "New studies show good results in the field of wound healing. Research on the treatment of Parkinson's disease also looks promising. There will definitely be new discoveries in the future. The medical potential of shock waves has not been fully explored yet."

Established in 1987, STORZ MEDICAL AG is a Swiss member company of the STORZ Group. The company has its headquarters in Tägerwilen on the Swiss side of Lake Constance. In cooperation with leading medical institutions, STORZ MEDICAL develops innovative shock wave systems that meet the highest standards of precision.



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