Shock waves are now used to treat a variety of musculoskeletal indications and the worldwide demand for shock wave therapy (SWT) is growing rapidly. It is a concern that very little is known about the mechanisms of action of shock waves in SWT. The technology for SWT devices is little changed from that of shock wave lithotripters developed for the treatment of urinary stones. SWT devices are engineered on the same acoustics principles as lithotripters, but the targets of therapy for SWT and shock wave lithotripsy (SWL) are altogether different. For SWT to achieve its potential as a beneficial treatment modality it will be necessary to determine precisely how SWT shock waves interact with biological targets. In addition, for SWT to evolve, the future design of these devices should be approached with caution, and lithotripsy may serve as a useful model. Indeed, there is a great deal to be learned from the basic research that has guided the development of SWL.