When men struggle to perform in the bedroom due to erectile dysfunction, most resort to Viagra or Cialis. But a few brave souls strap their penises to low-intensity extracorporeal shockwaves, as part of a therapy known as ESWT. It involves painless acoustic waves stimulating blood flow and, in theory, this should lead to better and more frequent erections.
“Most men have never heard about this kind of treatment before,” David Shusterman, the founder of NY Urology and a urologist who practices ESWT, told Fatherly. “ It is not extreme in any way, on the contrary, a completely natural and well-tested method of treatment.”
It sounds a little too good—and, at the same time, too horrifying—to be true, but ESWT has been around for decades. Physicians use it to treat arthritis, tennis elbow, and kidney stones, and it has been used in Europe to treat erectile dysfunction for years. But it is a relatively new option for American men. It comes not a moment too soon—nearly half of men between the ages of 40 and 70 struggle with erectile dysfunction, and there’s evidence that this takes a major psychological toll. Pills are not a magical cure-all and they don’t work for everyone.
During a typical ESWT session, Shusterman shoots low-intensity acoustic waves into the erectile tissue, ideally clearing out plaque in old blood vessels and stimulating growth for new ones. “We get to the root of the problem, which is simple cell rejuvenation,” Shusterman explains, adding that quick fixes like Viagra tend to be hard on the body over time. “Like any other part of the body, shockwave therapy helps reboot that area and therefore replenish and reignite the overall function.”
Irwin Goldstein, a urologist, director of sexual medicine at Alvarado Hospital in San Diego agrees. “They interfere with certain health conditions, and many men discontinue their use for different reasons. But most importantly, they’re temporary, and they do not change the underlying pathophysiology of the condition,” Goldstein told Healthline. “Through shockwave therapy, we are introducing a new paradigm of ED treatment that appears effective in changing the health of the penile tissue.”
It’s important to note the treatment is not yet FDA-approved, and some studies demonstrate the efficacy but others have had mixed reports of success. Both experts are optimistic that about shockwave therapy an alternative to pills for men with ED other than just not having sex. And with more options, hopefully that will decrease the stigma tied to talking about it.
“Our bodies are resilient and beautifully complex,” Shusterman says. “Which is why I encourage our patients to come in, talk to me so that we can work together in solving whatever problem and you can go back feeling pride and love for your own bodies’ wellness.”