ERECTIONS ∙ 6 minutes read

From penis pumps to shockwave therapy: 5 alternative treatments for erectile dysfunction

By Emily Cameron

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When you hear the words “erectile dysfunction treatment”, chances are you think of the famous little blue pill. Many people choose the blue pill – known as sildenafil (the active ingredient in Viagra) – because it has a long track record of being able to successfully treat erectile dysfunction (ED).

But before people opt for sildenafil, they often like to know what other ED treatments are out there. There is a plethora of alternative erectile dysfunction treatments and remedies out there – however, some are more effective than others (and some aren’t very effective at all). For your convenience, here is a list of 5 alternative erectile dysfunction treatments and remedies – so you know which ones may work, and which ones could be avoided. 

1. Penis pumps

The vacuum pump (also known as the “penis pump” and “erectile dysfunction pump”) is a cylindrical tube that, once placed over the penis, creates a vacuum that increases blood flow to the penis. 

Vacuum pumps usually come with a “retaining ring” (a rubber ring that wraps tightly around the penis to ensure the blood remains inside it) and are either manually or electronically powered. 

Do penis pumps work?

According to one paper, 90% of patients who used a vacuum pump were subsequently able to get an erection. What’s more, a survey of 5,847 vacuum pump users revealed that 83.5% of them continued to use theirs for the purpose of intercourse.   

How safe are penis pumps?

In general, vacuum pumps tend to be relatively safe. Side effects are uncommon, but can include: 

  • Pain/physical discomfort 
  • Blocked ejaculation 
  • Numbness 
  • Penile bruising 
  • Petechiae (small red dots where bleeding under the skin has occurred)  

2. Erectile dysfunction gel

Unlike other forms of ED medication, erectile dysfunction gels are applied directly to the penis and/or scrotum. The active ingredient in erectile dysfunction gel is usually alprostadil (also known as Prostaglandin E1) – a compound that causes the blood vessels in the penis to relax and dilate (widen).  

The widening of blood vessels (vasodilation) is important when it comes to getting and maintaining erections because it allows more blood to flow into the penis upon arousal.  

It is this increased flow of blood that ultimately results in an erection, so by encouraging vasodilation, alprostadil presents itself as a possible alternative treatment for erectile dysfunction. 

Does erectile dysfunction gel work?

One small trial found that 12 out of 31 men (38.9%) were able to achieve an erection hard enough for penetrative sex after treating themselves with an alprostadil gel. 

However, a recent paper suggested that further investigation into erectile dysfunction gels needs to be carried out – especially in men with penile neuropathy (damage to the nerves of the penis) – to fully understand how effective it is for treating erectile dysfunction.

How safe is erectile dysfunction gel? 

It is difficult to determine how safe erectile dysfunction gels are because most of the studies demonstrating its ability to treat ED have been small in size.

Although most studies report only “mild” adverse reactions (such as tingling and skin discomfort), other side effects include

  • Inflammation of the foreskin and glans of the penis (balanoposthitis)
  • Rash 
  • Sexual dysfunction 
  • Urinary tract pain 
  • A burning sensation 

Not much is known about the long term effects of erectile dysfunction gels. For this reason, it is advisable to consult your doctor before applying any ED gel to ensure they are safe for you to take and don’t conflict with any medication you may be on. 

3. Natural erectile dysfunction treatments

Natural erectile dysfunction treatments – such as Panax ginseng and Rhodiola rosea – are often rumoured to be effective remedies for erectile dysfunction. 

We have already written about some of the most common natural erectile dysfunction treatments out there, but in summary, the evidence supporting natural ED remedies is relatively thin. For the full scoop on natural erectile dysfunction treatments, read our article here

Do natural erectile dysfunction treatments work?

Most of the trials investigating the effects of natural erectile dysfunction treatments have been extremely small (sometimes consisting of as little as 24 participants). As a consequence, it is difficult to know how effective natural ED treatments are in relation to the wider population because they have only been tested on a small number of people.  

How safe are natural erectile dysfunction treatments?

The safety of natural erectile dysfunction remedies varies. Some, such as Panax ginseng, are usually well-tolerated (although potential side effects include headache, insomnia, and gastrointestinal disorders). 

Others, like Yohimbine are just plain bad news. Yohimbine has been known to cause: 

  • Gastrointestinal upset 
  • Anxiety 
  • Increased blood pressure 
  • Headache 
  • Agitation 
  • Rash 
  • Fast or irregular heart rate 
  • Frequent urination

As previously advised, talk to your doctor before taking any natural erectile dysfunction treatment to make sure it is safe for you to take and doesn’t conflict with any medication you are on. 

4. Acupuncture

This ancient Chinese practice involves poking fine needles into specific points in the body to (according to Chinese medicine) restore the patient’s flow of life force energy (known as Qi).

We have already written about acupuncture and its role as a potential ED treatment, so to find out more about acupuncture and erectile dysfunction, you can refer to our complete guide

Does acupuncture for erectile dysfunction work?

Although some have claimed acupuncture is an effective treatment for erectile dysfunction, the evidence supporting these claims is insubstantial

How safe is acupuncture for erectile dysfunction?

Side effects are fairly uncommon, but they can include: 

  • Pain 
  • Bruising or bleeding at insertion sites 
  • Drowsiness 
  • Feeling dizzy

5. Shockwave therapy

Shockwave therapy (also known as low-intensity extracorporeal shockwave therapy) involves sending sound waves to the shaft of the penis to improve erectile function. 

How exactly shockwave therapy works in treating ED is not fully understood, but it is believed the sound waves encourage the production of nitric oxide (NO) – a key molecule involved in getting and maintaining erections. 

Does shockwave therapy for erectile dysfunction work?

As this is a relatively new erectile dysfunction treatment method, more research needs to be done to determine whether it is a truly effective treatment for ED. 

However, one study showed that 29 men experienced improved erectile function after being treated with shockwave therapy for three weeks. 

Unfortunately, this study failed to mention the total number of men who participated in the trial – so it is difficult to say how effective the treatment was based on the data given. 

How safe is shockwave therapy for erectile dysfunction?

Shockwave therapy is believed to have “minimal” side effects – but it is still a relatively new form of ED treatment, so potential side effects may still be undocumented.  

The bottom line

While there are a wide range of alternative erectile dysfunction remedies out there, many of them need more scientific backing to substantiate the claims made about their effectiveness. 

Always consult your doctor before attempting to take any alternative erectile dysfunction treatment to ensure it is safe for you to take and doesn’t conflict with any medication you are on.

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