Therapeutic use of high-amplitude pressure waves, or shock wave therapy (SWT), is emerging as a popular method for treating musculoskeletal disorders. However, the mechanism(s) through which this technique promotes healing are unclear. Finite element models of a shock wave source and the foot were constructed to gain a better understanding of the mechanical stimuli that SWT produces in the context of plantar fasciitis treatment. The model of the shock wave source was based on the geometry of an actual radial shock wave device, in which pressure waves are generated through the collision of two metallic objects: a projectile and an applicator. The foot model was based on the geometry reconstructed from magnetic resonance images of a volunteer and it comprised bones, cartilage, soft tissue, plantar fascia, and Achilles tendon. Dynamic simulations were conducted of a single and of two successive shock wave pulses administered to the foot. The collision between the projectile and the applicator resulted in a stress wave in the applicator. This wave was transmitted into the soft tissue in the form of compression-rarefaction pressure waves with an amplitude of the order of several MPa. The negative pressure at the plantar fascia reached values of over 1.5 MPa, which could be sufficient to generate cavitation in the tissue. The results also show that multiple shock wave pulses may have a cumulative effect in terms of strain energy accumulation in the foot.
Keywords: Shock wave therapy; finite element modelling; plantar fasciitis.