Shockwave: Sounds of the Future

An extracorporeal shock wave therapy device sounds high-tech, and it is. Based on the same technology that is used in human medicine to break up kidney stones, shock wave therapy is being defined, and refined, for use in treating various injuries in horses.

UC Davis boasts the only high-powered ultrasound guided shock wave device in the United States that can be used in the standing horse, said Jack Snyder, DVM, PhD, Dipl. ACVS. This significantly reduces the risk of the procedure since the horse does not have to be anesthetized. Other devices use different sources to generate the shock wave, and they either have less power or generate the shock by a "spark plug-like effect" so that they are loud enough that the horse has to be anesthetized to undergo treatment. The Storz system uses an electromagnetic generated spark that is very powerful and quiet, said Snyder. He added that because of the high power of this device, manufactured by Karl Storz Lithotripsy, "We are able to apply therapy as deep as five centimeters under the skin’s surface.

"The bottom line with shock wave therapy is that we are seeing pain relief and promoting faster and better healing," added Snyder.

While UC Davis has treated about 100 horses since acquiring its machine in September of 1999, a similar unit in Germany has been used on more than 1,000 horses. The researchers at Davis are finding the same results that the Germans report.

"There is no question we are seeing an effect," said Snyder. "For example, our previous protocol on a suspensory ligament injury was to use ultrasound to diagnose the injury, put the horse through a physical therapy/recovery period, and re-check him in 60-90 days. After adding the shock wave therapy to the treatment, we find we now need to check them at 35-40 days because we are seeing positive effects that early. We also are using shock wave treatment on stress fractures (bucked shins). We’re still in the preliminary stages, but at the least we are finding they heal as fast as if we had done surgery.

"It warrants further investigation and use," he continued. "If we can heal injuries faster and better, and without surgery, then this is way ahead of where we are now."

About the Author

Kimberly S. Brown

Kimberly S. Brown was the Publisher/Editor of The Horse: Your Guide To Equine Health Care from June 2008 to March 2010, and she served in various positions at Blood-Horse Publications since 1980.

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