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Erectile dysfunction is something that can affect people for all manner of reasons, from the physiological to the psychological. There are a lot of drugs and at-home remedies out there that can be used, but an increasingly talked-about method is low-intensity shockwave therapy.
In a new video on her YouTube channel, urologist and sex educator Dr. Rena Malik explains how shockwave therapy works, and whether it’s effective as a treatment method for erectile dysfunction.
Here’s how it works: sound waves are administered to the penile tissue, beginning with a short pulse, then a rapid increase to maximum positive pressure, followed by a prolonged period of negative pressure.
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Shockwaves create both direct and indirect damage. Directly, they apply mechanical stress to tissue, and indirectly they achieve a “turbulent flow” in the blood vessels, causing the body to respond in much the same way that it would to trauma, by releasing vascular endothelial growth factor, a protein that stimulates the formation of blood cells.
“It also causes recruitment of stem cells or other early types of cells which then differentiate to create more blood vessels and repair damaged tissues that cause erectile dysfunction,” says Malik. “It may also increase the production of nitric oxide in those tissues… nitric oxide is the ignition for erections.”
There is some pretty solid evidence that shockwave therapy does have an impact on the erection hardness score, a 4-point scale designed to evaluate erectile dysfunction, and that shockwave therapy even increases the speed at which blood flows to the penis.
While there is limited data on long-term results, Malik cites small studies which have found that only 34 percent of participants continued to show improvement two years after treatment. A separate study which followed up after five years found that “erectile function continued to deteriorate, but it tended to plateau at about 40 percent.” She adds that there was no pain or deformity reported at any point, meaning this treatment can be considered safe.
Malik goes on to say that it’s difficult to compare the results of any research in this area, given that the machines used to administer the shockwaves, the length of treatment windows, and the number of shocks per session can vary widely. This is one of the reasons why it is still a relatively rare procedure, and not likely to be recommended by healthcare providers or covered by insurance.
Philip Ellis is a freelance writer and journalist from the United Kingdom covering pop culture, relationships and LGBTQ+ issues. His work has appeared in GQ, Teen Vogue, Man Repeller and MTV.
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