“Shock” and “penis” are two words that people rarely want to appear in the same sentence, yet somehow, shockwave therapy is growing as a means to treat erectile dysfunction, even without it being approved by the FDA. While exposing your peen to a shockwave might sound scary, from what we know so far, the procedure seems safe and effective, so let’s plug in (sorry) for a hard look (sorry again) at the topic.
What is shockwave therapy?
First of all, put away any images you have from One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest, as shockwave therapy has nothing to do with electroshock therapy. It’s not even electricity being used — it’s sound. As the University of Miami’s Director of Male Reproductive Medicine Ranjith Ramasamy explains, shockwaves are simply a higher energy version of ultrasound, generated by a loud noise traveling faster than the speed of sound. “It’s generated by hydraulics or by electromagnets created by a magnetic field. It’s basically high-energy sound, not an electric shock,” Ramasamy confirms.
While we’re on the subject, electroshock therapy isn’t quite the horror show it’s made out to be, either. While early experiments did result in some serious brain damage, memory loss and even skull fractures, it’s been used safely and effectively for decades to treat things like severe depression and bipolar disorder. Also, it’s now called electroconvulsive therapy, or ECT.
Let’s get back to the dick shockwaves, though. How does the therapy work?
Originally, doctors tried to use shockwave therapy to treat peyronie’s disease, which is a condition where the penis leans severely to one side or the other, looking “broken,” due to an internal buildup of plaque (scar tissue). Because shockwaves have been used for decades to blast apart kidneys stones safely and effectively, it was thought it could do the same for the plaque. As it turns out, it was ineffective for the plaque buildup, but it was found that the erections in those who had the treatment improved, and so, for about the last decade, it’s been used to treat erectile dysfunction. Trials are regularly being performed in order to get the treatment approved by the FDA (a process that can take many years).
For ED, the treatment works by stimulating blood flow to the penis, which also brings along stem cells from other parts of the body. These stem cells can then repair the tissues in the penis that may result in an improvement in one’s erections.
So how effective is it?
“About one half of the men appear to respond, the other half don’t,” Ramasamy says, so you’ve got a fifty-fifty shot, which is about the same as most pills for ED, according to the AARP. Though a study from last year into shockwave therapy found that the results begin to wane after about two years.
What does it feel like?
It doesn’t hurt: Ramasamy says it will just feel like someone physically tapping your penis 60 times a minute for 15 minutes. That’s it.
How much does it cost?
About $3,000 to $5,000, and that’s out-of-pocket because it’s yet to be FDA approved. If you’re lucky, you may also be able to find a clinical trial doing it for free, like Ramasamy has going on now at the University of Miami.
Where else can I get it?
“Shockwave therapy for erectile dysfunction isn’t FDA approved in the U.S.,” Ramasamy reiterates, so if you’re seeking it out, it’s going to be what’s known as “off-label.” While that may sound shady, off-label treatments and medicines are administered all the time. For example, Viagra is FDA approved for erectile dysfunction and heart disease, but it also can be used to help with blood flow to prevent amputations. “As long as the patient consents to it being used off-label, and they understand all of the risks, it’s certainly legal; it’s just not covered by insurance companies,” Ramasamy explains.
To find a doctor near you who does this, you can perform a Google search for it, but Ramasamy says to be wary of scams.
Ramasamy cautions that some people out there may say that they use shockwave therapy, but that isn’t the case. Here’s the thing: Not all sound waves are alike. Shockwaves have been safely used in the U.S. for decades, but there are some out there using devices that emit radio waves instead. These radio waves aren’t believed to be dangerous — the problem is more that they probably don’t do anything at all. As Ramasamy explains, “There are absolutely no studies that show it to be an effective treatment for erectile dysfunction.” In fact, the radio waves are so weak that they may not even permeate the skin of the penis, much less repair anything.
How can I tell a scam from the real deal?
The machines used to treat kidney stones are far too powerful to help with ED, as they’d result in a hematoma if one tried. Aside from those, there’s only one FDA-approved device that emits shockwaves, and that’s called the STORZ machine. This device is used to treat muscular issues like Achilles tendonitis, and it’s the only machine being used off-label that can treat ED.
Aside from that, you may find clinical studies using different devices. Ramasamy’s study at the University of Miami is using a machine called MoreNova, which is approved in Israel, Europe and South America expressly for erectile dysfunction. Studies like these would need to follow IRB protocols, Ramasamy says.
As for that radio-wave machine, That’s called a GAINSwave, and while it’s FDA approved, it’s got such low power that it doesn’t require a physician to administer (and probably won’t do dick for your dick).
Are there any risks?
There may be bleeding around the penis, under the skin. While Ramasamy says these haven’t been observed yet, these are the potential risks, given the risks of shockwave treatment in other areas. There’s also a slight chance it can make erections worse, which occurred in one to two percent of people.
So how do I know if it’s right for me?
While one might assume that this would be a last resort for sufferers of erectile dysfunction, Ramasamy says that isn’t the case: It might just be people who aren’t fond of taking a pill every time they want to get busy, or those who worry about the side effects of drugs like Viagra. In fact, Ramasamy says that for those with severe ED who have tried all the drugs and found them ineffective, shockwave therapy hasn’t proven to be helpful either.
Whether or not you try it really depends upon the cost of it, as it will likely not be covered by your insurance. Just be careful of the scams and don’t forget there are other options out there if you’re not sure about this one. As Ramasamy puts it, “Erectile dysfunction has very good treatment options with pills and injections and even surgery with a penile implant, which are often very effective.”
Though if you ask me, getting hit by some shockwaves sounds way less scary than “penile implants.”