Sending low-frequency shock waves through injured muscles could rapidly accelerate their recovery, according to a groundbreaking study.
The findings could have a significant impact on the treatment of sporting injuries, potentially enabling athletes to make a swift return to training.
Researchers at the University of Salzburg tested Extracorporeal Shock Wave Therapy (ESWT) on rats and discovered that the procedure triggered muscle tissue to kickstart the self-healing process.
Dr Angela Zissler, leader of the study, said: "Our study indicates that shock waves increase the levels of chemical signalling factors in muscle tissue. These factors wake up 'satellite' progenitor cells which gradually become new muscle fibres."
ESWT has already proved to be successful in treating injuries such as ligament and tendon damage, but this is the first study to look at its role in healing muscles.
In an ESWT session, probes send shock waves to the damaged muscle at a rate of roughly 1 pulse per second. Because the shock waves use only a small amount of energy, there is no need for a local anaesthetic.
Dr Zissler added: "This therapy only needs sessions of around 15 minutes, so easily complements traditional practices such as physiotherapy."
Shock wave therapy is uncomfortable but not painful, according to Total Health, which explains that the more energy a patient can tolerate, the greater the chance of a speedy recovery. Surgeons start off by applying very low-energy pulses, which increase as treatment continues.
ESWT has been used to treat a range of conditions from heel pain to breaking up kidney stones.
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