One of the biggest downers is not being able to get it up. Thankfully, science has had your back since 1998, when the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) approved Viagra for treating erectile dysfunction (ED). Ever since, Viagra and other PDE5 inhibitor meds have been boosting blood flow to the penis.

Unfortunately, they don’t work for all men, and some aren’t even allowed to take them due to health issues like cardiovascular disease, diabetes and high blood pressure. That’s where other methods come in handy, like shockwave therapy.

That said, shockwave therapy is relatively new to the market. So here’s what you should know before you consider it.

What is shockwave therapy, anyway?
The method has actually been around since the 1980s, but it was used to treat kidney stones. The form used on the penis today is considered a modified, low-intensity version of shockwave therapy. But doctors don’t exactly know how it works—yet. They do believe that when clinicians apply a probe to the penis, it sends energy from acoustic waves to different parts of the penis to produce more blood vessels and, therefore, improve blood flow.

Does it hurt?
Hearing the words “shock” and “penis” in the same sentence can be cringeworthy. But despite the name, this type of therapy doesn’t hurt at all; rather, it merely promotes a tingling sensation. Research conducted by Israeli scientists in 2013, and published in the journal Therapeutic Advances in Urology, found that the treatment didn’t cause significant pain, and there were no adverse reactions.

How long does a session take, and how many sessions do you need?
Each session lasts about 15 to 20 minutes. That same 2013 study found that the effects of the shockwave therapy could last for two years, making it desirable for men who do not want to deal with on-demand ED treatments, like oral medications, injections or vacuum erection devices.

Currently, there’s no consensus on how many treatments each patient should be given, how high the intensity level of the shocks should be or the precise placement required for the shocks.

Can you trust it?
Studies to date are slim, but the majority of them have shown promising results. For example, 14 studies published on the method between 2004 and 2014 found erectile function to have doubled since patients receiving treatment. However, of those studies, many weren’t double-blind, placebo-controlled studies, so there is a concern that we may be seeing the active placebo effect more than anything else. Furthermore, the studies to date have been done in small animals that have similar but not identical mechanisms for erections.

Despite it still being in its early stages, however, shockwave therapy hasn’t been found to cause side effects or systemic load on other organs or healthy tissues. In fact, because it’s non-invasive, there is no concern over the use of sedation or anesthesia at all.

What’s the takeaway?
While shockwave therapy still needs more research to determine various crucial components, one potential benefit could be its ability to actually treat the cause of the problem, and not just its symptoms, which is what Viagra does. If it’s eventually approved, it could help the 30 million American men that do suffer from ED.

Photo: iStock/dolgachov