Houston Methodist. Leading Medicine

Foot FAQ


Have you ever heard of using shock therapy for plantar fasciitis? It's like the kind they use to break up kidney stones. How does it work on the foot without destroying the tissue?


Plantar fasciitis is a painful condition affecting the bottom of the foot. It is a common cause of heel pain and is sometimes called a heel spur. Plantar fasciitis is the correct term to use when there is active inflammation. Acute plantar fasciitis is defined as inflammation of the origin of the plantar fascia and fascial structures around the area. Plantar fasciitis is usually just on one side. In about 30 per cent of all cases, both feet are affected. Treatment is usually with conservative (nonoperative) care. This could include stretching, wearing a splint at night, the use of antiinflammatory medications, and/or a special arch support to help reduce the pressure on the fascia. Shock wave therapy is a newer form of nonsurgical treatment. It uses a machine to generate shock wave pulses to the sore area. This type of shock wave therapy was, indeed, first used to break up kidney stones. It has been used in treating plantar fasciitis for the last 10 to 15 years. Patients generally receive the treatment once each week for up to three weeks. It is not known exactly why it works for plantar fasciitis. It's possible that the shock waves disrupt the plantar fascial tissue enough to start a healing response. The resulting release of local growth factors and stem cells causes an increase in blood flow to the area. This type of treatment produces a rising acoustic (sound) wave that causes high energy and pressure against the tissue. It may destroy sensory nerve fibers that send pain messages to the brain, thus turning off those messages. Recent studies indicate that this form of treatment can help ease pain, while improving range of motion and function. There are different types of shock wave therapy. In this study, researchers from Taiwan conduct a systematic review and meta-analysis comparing the effectiveness of two major types of shock wave therapy. The most common type is called focused shock wave therapy (FSW). A newer, alternative form called radial shock wave therapy (RSW) was also evaluated. Focused shock wave (FSW) therapy is just as it sounds: the energy wave is directed at a specific area. FSW concentrates the wave field whereas radial shock wave (RSW) disperses the energy over a wider range. With RSW, it is not necessary to find the painful spots before applying the energy wave. Ke-Vin Chang, MD, et al. Comparative Effectiveness of Focused Shock Wave Therapy of Different Intensity Levels and Radial Shock Wave Therapy for Treating Plantar Fasciitis: A Systematic Review and Network Meta-Analysis. In The American Journal of Sports Medicine. July 2012. Vol. 93. No. 7. Pp. 1259-1268.

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