After Kelly Axiotis had rotator cuff surgery last year to repair a weightlifting injury, she was anxious to get back to doing all the activities she loved: running, swimming, cycling and living a fit, active lifestyle.

The 42-year-old Boynton Beach stay-at-home mom was diligent in her post-op rehab — but soon found that traditional post-op recovery protocols weren't producing the results she desired.

"My progress had plateaued," she said.

Then her doctor "began using acoustic wave therapy to improve my range of motion and reduce pain. After four treatments, my healing process greatly improved. This technology is amazing."

Axiotis is among a growing number of folks who are turning to shockwave therapy — a non-invasive modality in which a handhdeld device delivers acoustic waves to an affected area — in order to relieve pain, increase range of motion and recover from injury and/or surgery.

Originally developed in Europe in the 1990s, shockwave therapy is currently FDA-approved to treat plantar fasciitis and tennis elbow, but its potential to treat myriad other conditions is enormous.

Among the ways that proponents of this treatment believe it benefits patients:


It helps to form new blood vessels at the affected area.
It reverses chronic inflammation.
It stimulates the production of collagen.
It dissolves calcium buildup.
It resolves the "metabolic crisis" in the affected area, thus lessening the impact of the body's "trigger points" of pain.
It reduces the activity of a neurotransmitter called Substance P that mediates the pain information that the brain receives. A lower concentration of Substance P means a lowered perception of pain.

In 2013, Miami Heat star Dwyane Wade revealed to ESPN that he'd been using a very intensive and high-energy form of shockwave therapy to treat his oft-injured knees.

However, one need not be a world-class athlete to make use of a tamped-down, low-energy version of this protocol.

Dr. David Rudnick of Chiropractic and Sports Rehabilitation Institute in Boynton Beach is an enthusiastic advocate of acoustic wave therapy delivered via The Miracle Wave device.

"I have been using shockwave therapy since April. During last year's Winter Olympics, I was speaking with some colleagues who were treating U.S. athletes to find out what they were seeing the best results from. They all agreed it was shockwave therapy. In addition, the research literature backed up their anecdotal evidence."

Rudnick says that, in addition to Axiotis, he's seen patients with an array of conditions benefit from undergoing a series of shockwave treatments.

A 49-year-old female runner with severe Achilles tendonitis recovered after just three weeks of thrice-weekly treatments combined with sports rehab.

A 32-year-old female equestrian who'd undergone surgery for fractures in her right tibia and fibula reported that, after nine sessions with shockwave treatments, she had significant improvement in her right quad, better range of motion in her knee and increased flexibility in overall leg movement and has since returned to elite level equestrian competition.

There are a few different forms of shockwave therapy: extracorporeal shockwave therapy (ESWT), which utilizes pressurized air; focused shockwave therapy (FST), utilizes electromagnetic pulses; and radial shockwave therapy (RST), which utilizes sound waves. 

The research on which technology produces more of the desired results is mixed (for instance, in 2017 the journal Medicine published a report that "suggested that FSWT can relieve pain in chronic plantar fasciitis ... while no firm conclusions of general ESWT and RSWT effectiveness can be drawn."

Because the research data is mixed, most health insurance plans don't cover shockwave treatments  

Typically, sessions with handheld shockwave devices last between five and 10 minutes and may produce mild discomfort at the application site (although Rudnick says most people tolerate the treatment with little to no pain).

Proponents of shockwave therapy say effects of the treatment are cumulative — although some patients do experience pain relief after the first session.