by Paula Detwiller
Like many retired professional athletes, champion LPGA golfer Meg Mallon of Ocean Ridge is no stranger to orthopedic pain.
“A golf swing is an unnatural movement, so you get a lot of wear and tear on your body,” she says.
Mallon, 50, still has numbness in her left leg from 2012, when she completely herniated two lumbar discs during a golf event in Phoenix. She has sporadic soreness in her neck and shoulders, too, which limits movement.
But she has a new ally these days: a type of therapy administered by her chiropractor that delivers low-energy sound waves directly to the source, or trigger point, of her pain. The result is a focused and precise deep-tissue “massage” that removes soreness, increases blood circulation, and restores range of motion.
Mallon’s Delray Beach chiropractor, Dr. Erich Menge, uses an Extracorporeal Shockwave Therapy (ESWT) device called the PiezoWave2. The machine—which was invented by the same German company that pioneered the use of acoustic shockwaves to break up kidney stones—creates lower-energy shockwaves that pulse rhythmically through a handheld applicator and into a patient’s body.
The machine makes a metallic click, click, click as the pulses are created. When the shockwaves make contact with the trigger point in the muscle, biochemical changes are thought to occur at the cellular level that can stimulate healing and relieve chronic pain.
A standard course of treatment is 7 to 10 sessions over a period of three weeks.
“We’re treating shoulders, hips, knees, necks, elbows—any kind of musculoskeletal injury,” says Menge, who owns one of only seven PiezoWave devices being used in Palm Beach County today. Patients who have benefitted from his therapy include well-known professional golfers, people with plantar faciitis, carpal tunnel sufferers, and plenty of weekend warriors who just want to keep active.
ESWT therapies have been used successfully in Europe since the 1990s to manage chronic pain. With advances in technology, the method is now believed to be not only rehabilitative, but also regenerative: studies suggest that ESWT can “jump start” the healing process in chronic, non-healing injuries and reintroduce the acute phase of healing.
“A retired gentleman came to me with a swollen Achilles tendon that looked like a pin cushion on the back of his ankle,” Menge says. “He couldn’t walk. His MRI indicates the tendon is frayed. But since he’s been receiving treatment, the swelling is 75 percent gone and he’s walking on the beach again.”
Menge is particularly excited about the PiezoWave’s prospects for treating fibromyalgia, a stubbornly painful autoimmune condition that can flare up and get worse after a regular, hands-on massage.
“I’ve had fibromyalgia patients come through, and this is changing their lives,” he says. “We’re finding that the low-level, focused shockwaves do not trigger the inflammatory reaction that leads to more pain.”
Success rates for treating orthopedic injuries with ESWT range from about 50 to 80 percent. The procedure is covered by some, but not all, insurance plans.
After a recent PiezoWave treatment on her lower neck and upper back muscles, Mallon breathed a (literal) sigh of relief. She could rotate her shoulder again without pain.
“It’s not a medication, which can have so many side effects,” she said. “My feeling is, why not try this first before you throw a bunch of pills in your body?”