Compared to the likes of Viagra, shockwave therapy remains a less mainstream remedy for erectile dysfunction. But some doctors and patients in Singapore are warming to it.
Shockwave therapy uses low intensity acoustics emitted by a machine probe, pictured above, to help enhance the firmness of an erection (Illustration: Kenneth Choy)
SINGAPORE: "Shockwave therapy for the penis” can be an intimidating proposition, admitted Travis (not his real name), a Singaporean male in his late 30s. Yet five months ago he tried the treatment in a bid to fix his erectile dysfunction (ED) - and it worked.
“People might be put off by the word 'shockwave', but there’s nothing to be afraid of. It was painless, there was no discomfort,” he described. “And it is effective. My performance has improved … it’s much better now.”
Despite the name, shockwave therapy actually uses external, low-intensity acoustics to trigger a process that forms new blood vessels, improving blood flow to the nether regions to help enhance the firmness of an erection.
“Part of the reason for ED could be inflammation of the blood vessels or damaged tissue - and what shockwave therapy does is create better-quality tissue,” said Dr Lim Kok Bin, a urologist who has been offering the treatment at his Raffles Hospital clinic since 2016.
He added that the technology is not new, having long been used to address joint pains as well as break down kidney stones - albeit at energy levels of 100 times more.
Along the spectrum of ED remedies, shockwave therapy sits between oral medication like the instantly recognisable Viagra and invasive procedures such as injections and prosthetic implants.
For Travis, the latter was a big no-no. He has also tried “non-conventional” supplements including traditional Chinese medicine and Viagra, but one proved ineffectual and the other produced side effects like blurred vision and headaches - so he turned to this other approach.
Shockwave therapy is a more recent development than the 20-year-old blue pill of Viagra, having been first published in European research papers at the turn of the 2010s and only arriving in Singapore in 2014.
Today it is readily available here at private clinics, Raffles Hospital, Singapore General Hospital, National University Hospital and Khoo Teck Puat Hospital. But the treatment remains little-known: Travis believes this is due to ED being a topic “not openly discussed” to begin with, and Dr Lim put it down to a lack of advertising.
A simplified look at the shockwave therapy process (Illustration: Kenneth Choy)
A further barrier could be what Dr Tan Kok Kuan, who runs a group of sexual health clinics, acknowledged as the “scary-sounding” name and notion - however ill-conceived - of shockwave therapy.
“The only scary thing about the treatment is that it is rather loud,” said Dr Tan, who is Travis' doctor. “It is completely non-invasive and completely painless.
“It feels very much like an ultrasound scan. Gel is placed on the probe and the probe is placed against the skin at the groin and the penis. If you touch the probe with your finger, you barely feel a tapping sensation,” he added.
“Patients feel nothing at all. In fact, many of my patients fall asleep during the treatment.”
Dr Lim reiterated: “I’m not sticking anything into your body, I’m not cutting you up. Nobody complains about pain - only one patient was a bit sensitive and jumped a bit. Nothing could go wrong.”
It was with those words as a guarantee that this reporter - who does not have ED - agreed to experience a standard 15-minute session involving 1,000 “shocks” on each of five different spots.
Yes, that adds up to 5,000 in total which sounded absolutely terrifying as I lay down on Dr Lim’s examination table, shivering in part from the cold of being exposed from the waist down and in part out of naked fear. But it was too late to turn back, and I clenched my teeth as he fired up the machine and went to work ...
As the doctors described, there was a bit of a din, which caused initial panic and the imagination of being repeatedly smacked down there. But I quickly realised that aside from a little warmth and a slight pattering sensation with each supposed “shock”, there was no pain at all.
It ended as quickly as it started, and with no need to worry about future repercussions, both doctors reassured.
Said Dr Lim: “Only two things will happen: It either helps you or doesn’t. The worst that could happen is it has no effect.”
He has administered shockwave therapy to around 20 patients, with only two not responding “very well” to the treatment due to psychological factors. Dr Tan, meanwhile, said: “I have treated more than 500 cases and I can safely say they have all seen some level of improvement, some more than others.”