Focused versus radial pressure waves for treating ED

SONICWAVE™ is a term for extracorporeal shock wave therapy (ESWT), these are focused shock waves that are the same technology employed in urology for breaking up kidney stones where it is termed extracorporeal shock wave lithotripsy (SWL). This technology is fundamentally different to radial pressure waves that are sometimes referred to confusingly as “shock waves.”

Radial pressure waves are akin to sound waves, which are ongoing oscillations that propagate outwards, i.e. radially, much like waves on the surface of water. When applied to the skin the effect is much like a vibratory massage. Blood flow increases, the skin warms up, it turns red and there may be an inflammatory response.

Radial pressure wave devices such as the Storz D-Actor line are used extensively in orthopaedics, physiotherapy and cosmetic treatments. Their positive effects are witnessed daily. However, hardly any scientific research has been conducted so far to investigate the precise biological effects of radial pressure waves. (See Art of the Shock Wave brochure published by Storz in 2016)

In contrast the shock waves are instant single pulses. As the pulses are focused, they converge at a certain point within the tissue. Their effect occurs at the level of cells and is often not visible on the surface of the skin. Considerable research has been conducted on the effects of shock waves on the penis and crura as a treatment for erectile dysfunction (ED). Many large-scale blind studies have now been completed that show that this form of treatment is effective for non-chronic ED that is caused by deficient vascularization.

However, there are no large-scale studies showing the effectiveness of radial pressure waves for treating ED.

Shock waves are abrupt single positive pulses

Pressure waves are oscillations akin to sound waves

Is GAINSWave treatment for ED clinically effective?

In the United States, at the moment, a number of radial pressure wave devices have been approved for use to stimulate blood flow. Their status is similar to vibrators that do not require regulatory approvals for therapeutic use.

Companies including GAINSWave™, that are providing devices and training for ED clinics across the United States are promoting “high frequency, low intensity sound waves to improve blood flow to the penis”, but they are conflating this with the research that has been conducted using focused shock waves.

Practitioners and patients should be aware that the therapies promoted by GAINSWave, at least at this point, have not been proven to be clinically effective.