PulseVet: The Basics and Benefits of Shock Wave Therapy for Horses

Dr. Paul McLellan, US Equestrian Dressage Team Vet


Horses carry the dreams, hopes, and goals of equestrians in all disciplines. Riders, owners, trainers, veterinarians, farriers, and countless others work hard to put horse welfare first. In the equine industry, various modalities are used to maintain the health and well-being of horses, including shock wave therapy. 

The term shock wave is a bit of a misnomer because there is no shock delivered. The goal of any treatment is to reduce pain and improve how horses feel and heal. However, while these therapies appear similar, they are vastly different.

While shock wave therapy offers many health and healing benefits to horses, PulseVet’s Director of Client Education, Trudy Gage, says, “Not all shock wave is the same, and not all shock wave is created equal. Find one that is made in the U.S. and backed by science.”

Understanding shock wave therapy and where to find licensed veterinarians providing this treatment are added tools in the horse welfare toolbox for horse owners and veterinarians.

Shock Wave Therapy Basics

According to the American Association of Equine Practitioners (AAEP), shock wave therapy for horses, or extracorporeal shock wave therapy (ESWT), is a noninvasive treatment option which uses sound waves to promote the healing of joints, ligaments, tendons, and wounds.

It is completely noninvasive. Instead of going straight to invasive procedures, such as injections, licensed veterinarians can deliver a safe and effective treatment that helps the horse’s body regenerate healthy tissue to promote healing from within. Pharmacological treatments mask pain and may have side effects, such as ulcers. However, shock wave treatment has no negative side effects.

The goals of shock wave therapy include increasing blood flow, improving the growth of new blood vessels, providing pain relief, reducing inflammation, and promoting a healing environment in the treated area. 

How Shock Wave Therapy Works

Shock wave treatment is provided using a machine that has a probe attached to a generator unit. This unit sends the sound waves directly to the treatment area through the probe. Typically, shock wave machines have a few probes to deliver shock wave treatment to various depths of tissue. Having an assortment of probes gives the veterinarians the ability to treat differing tissue depths and indications, from superficial injuries close to the surface to deep injuries of the muscles, joints, or even the spine.

Because of the high-energy treatments and immediate pain relief offered, only licensed veterinarians should prescribe treatment. Horse owners researching shock wave therapy need to be aware of anyone claiming to provide a shock wave treatment who is not a veterinarian. 

Additionally, equestrian governing bodies across disciplines have rules about when shock wave treatments can be performed. According to ScienceDaily, a study published with the University of Pennsylvania found that racetracks require shock wave treatments to be performed more than 10 days before a race due to the lasting effects of treatment.

Since shock wave therapy provides a powerful pain-relieving anti-inflammatory effect, some organizations have guidelines in place to prevent accidental injury in the period immediately following treatment. Check with your governing body rules to ensure optimal clinical results and safety following shock wave therapy treatment.

Always check rulebooks for all equestrian disciplines regarding shock wave treatments before and during competition. 

Dr. Molly Bellefeuille, DVM (owner, Northern Star Equine Veterinary Services)

Conditions Treated by Shock Wave Therapy 

This type of therapy can be used for acute injuries, chronic conditions, and as a prophylactic for general wellness. Numerous studies have proven the effectiveness of shock wave therapy. Many common equine conditions benefit from shock wave therapy, including:

  • Tendonitis
  • Ligament injuries and inflammation
  • Osteoarthritis
  • Fractures and bone injuries
  • Navicular disease
  • Muscle pain
  • Wounds

In fact, studies have found that horses treated for suspensory injuries using electrohydraulic focused shock wave treatment showed the injury healed in a linear fiber pattern and the suspensory ligament looked as though no injury had occurred. These horses experienced anti-inflammatory pain relief from treatment and often did not reinjure the area once back in work.

This study compared horses treated with shock waves to those treated with rest. The horses treated with rest also showed healing to the suspensory ligament, but the fibers did not line up and appeared jumbled with patterns of scar tissue. Horses with this disrupted pattern of fibers who did not receive shock wave therapy often reinjured themselves. 

In order to innovate and expand the shock wave therapy offered, PulseVet continues to perform studies around the world at universities and clinics. Collaboration and education ensure horse welfare remains the top priority.

In addition to being used for injuries, shock wave therapy is often used for horses in heavy work with owners looking to help avoid injury, maintain elasticity in tendons and ligaments, and keep horses from
being sore. 

Many equine organizations utilize the proven, studied shock wave therapy options offered by PulseVet. In fact, PulseVet is the official shock wave therapy provider for the US Equestrian Team Vets and travels around the world with them. While traveling, the PulseVet team provides education to horse owners, riders, and veterinarians because horse welfare always comes first.

The PulseVet Shock Wave Difference

PulseVet uses electrohydraulic focused shock waves to deliver treatment to surface tissue and deep tissue. In fact,  PulseVet shock wave therapy can reach tissue depths of 110 millimeters, offering effective anti-inflammatory, regenerative healing to spinal joints and deep muscles.

Like humans, the body of a horse is mainly comprised of water. While therapies utilizing light waves can help with healing, the light is dispersed across a superficial area and cannot penetrate deep tissue. Light therapies require many treatments as well. 

Gage describes the difference between light therapies and electrohydraulic focused shock waves like this: “When a light is shined into a pool at night, it does not reach the bottom and dissipates quickly. However, a sound made underwater at one end of the pool can be heard at the opposite side clearly. Water (and tissue) carries sound waves effectively.”

Because PulseVet’s studied and proven electrohydraulic focused shock waves can treat superficial and deep tissue noninvasively and effectively, veterinarians only need to treat horses between one and three times to achieve full effectiveness. Additionally, treatments are spaced out 14 days. After completing the one to three treatments, horse owners can enjoy several months of lasting results.

PulseVet’s innovative electrohydraulic focused shock wave treatment is generally included as a fully covered therapy with equine insurance for three sessions. With results lasting several months and insurance covering the cost, shock wave therapy is a cost-effective treatment.

As Gage says, “Protect your horse and your pocketbook. Know what you’re paying for because the results will not be the same if you go with an unproven, not covered treatment.”

Using PulseVet to Gain Greater Healing

PulseVet’s shock wave treatment products are made in the USA with quality materials. If something breaks or needs repair, veterinarians can count on PulseVet to address and solve the issue promptly. The horse always comes first, and PulseVet’s electrohydraulic focused shock wave treatment takes horse welfare to the next level through continually studied treatments. 

Unlike other shock wave providers, PulseVet offers horse owners a vet locator online to find licensed PulseVet shock wave therapy veterinarians in their area. This helps ensure horses receive the best possible treatment from a licensed veterinarian, and horse owners can submit a claim to their insurance provider for a covered treatment. 

PulseVet helps the horse’s longevity through promoting healing naturally within the body, slowing the progression of arthritis, and bringing in the good proteins to aid in cells talking to each other. Horses carry more than riders; they carry hopes, dreams, and joy. Keeping them healthy and pain-free is an important job that takes a team of dedicated people. Learn more about how PulseVet starts the healing process by contacting a PulseVet representative today at (800) 245-4417 or info@pulsevet.com. 

Read more about the research at: www.pulsevet.com/research/equine 

The healing effects of PulseVet’s therapies include:

  • 90% success in treating chronic back pain and kissing spines
  • Faster healing of tendon/ligament injuries
  • 81% improvement in horses with navicular syndrome
  • 50% faster healing of collateral ligament injuries

Additionally, PulseVet treatments offer:

  • One to three treatments for full healing
  • An average treatment is 1000 pulses, which takes less than 5 minutes to complete
  • Energy penetration of up to 110mm in the body

*This story was originally published in the September 2021 issue of The Plaid Horse. Click here to read it now and subscribe for issues delivered straight to your door!