What Is A Shock Wave?

Updated: Feb 27, 2020

As the theory states, the Universe started with the “Big Bang”, which is the first cosmic scale shock wave that created the vast expanse of stellar space. That was just the beginning. Planets, stars and galaxies still continue to form through collisions, explosions, implosions and other events which create other shock waves at a cosmic scale.

When life appeared on Earth, initially at the cellular level, then multi-cellular level and eventually as complex organisms, there was a constant bombardment of meteors, intense volcanic activity, and sustained earthquakes, all sources of strong shock waves. As a reaction to the environmental generated shock waves, in time, living organisms adjusted to mechanical/pressure stimuli produced by shock waves similar to their reaction to other stimuli such as heat/cold, chemical, electrical, etc. This explains the human body’s sustained reaction when subject to modulated shock waves - which translates to healing and regeneration due to cellular/tissue interaction.

Generally, an acoustic pressure shock wave is an audible and very strong pressure impulse in any elastic medium (air, water or solid), created by supersonic craft, lightning, explosions, earthquakes or other extreme phenomena that generate sudden and significant changes in pressure.

Explosions of any kind produce shock waves in air/water/solids, as can be seen from the videos below:

Shock waves are very fast, invisible, powerful and propagate in any direction through all types of organic and inorganic matter. They travel at 300 m/s (0.186 mile/s) in air, 1500 m/s (0.932 mile/s) in liquids and up to 9000 m/s (5.592 mile/s) in solids, which enables them to travel large distances and allows them to reach near-proximity targets almost instantaneously. Humans have used shock waves for their destructive power mainly for military purposes, but in the second half of the last century also for medical purposes (breaking of kidney stones and for tissue stimulation and regeneration).

The “beauty” of medical acoustic pressure shock waves is the harnessing and modulation of their power to be focused, enabling them to pass through the human body without destroying soft tissue when kidney stones are targeted, or for stimulating tissue regeneration (both hard tissues, as bone, and soft tissues, as skin and muscles).

The pressure profile of a shock wave is characterized by a sudden increase in compressive pressure (compressive phase) followed by an exponential decrease until the pressures get negative in the tensile phase of the shock waves. Medical shock waves are usually producing compressive pressures up to 100 MPa (1000 bar) that act on tissue macro level and negative/tensile pressures of up to -15 MPa (150 bar) that produce cavitation in fluids and act at the cellular micro level. 

In our divided world, for any possible reasons, where the same event can be seen as “bad” or “good” depending on one’s opinion, it seems that acoustic pressure shock waves fit the same mold, too. On the one hand, shock waves can be used for their significant destructive power, whereas on the other hand they can heal the human body. The choice is always up to us.

Keywords: shock wave, compressive phase, tensile phase, ESWT, extracorporeal shock wave technology, extracorporeal shock wave therapy, cavitation, mechanism of action, wound care, diabetic foot ulcers, DFU, shockwave therapy, amputation prevention, dermaPACE, chronic wounds, SANUWAVE, PACE Technology

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