What is ultrasound therapy?
Ultrasound therapy is a form of physical therapy that uses high-frequency sound waves to treat various medical conditions. During ultrasound therapy, a machine called an ultrasound generator produces sound waves that are directed at the affected area of the body using a handheld probe. The sound waves penetrate deep into the body tissues, causing tiny vibrations that help to reduce pain, inflammation, and muscle spasms.
Ultrasound therapy is also known as therapeutic ultrasound, ultrasonic therapy, and sonotherapy.
Which conditions are treated with ultrasound therapy?
Ultrasound therapy is used to treat a variety of medical conditions. Some of the most common conditions that are treated with ultrasound therapy include:
- Musculoskeletal injuries: Ultrasound therapy can be used to treat soft tissue injuries such as muscle strains, sprains, and contusions.
- Arthritis: US therapy can also be used to help reduce pain and inflammation in joints affected by arthritis.
- Tendonitis: Ultrasound therapy can help to reduce pain and inflammation in tendons, which can be caused by overuse or repetitive stress.
- Fibromyalgia: This chronic pain condition can be treated with ultrasound therapy to reduce pain and stiffness in the muscles and joints.
- Scar tissue: Ultrasound therapy can help to break down scar tissue and promote healing after surgery or injury.
- Carpal tunnel syndrome: Ultrasound therapy can be used to reduce pain and inflammation in the wrist and hand associated with carpal tunnel syndrome.
- Plantar fasciitis: This painful condition affecting the foot can be treated with ultrasound therapy to reduce pain and inflammation in the plantar fascia.
How does ultrasound therapy work?
Ultrasound therapy works by using high-frequency sound waves to produce a therapeutic effect on the body. The sound waves are generated by a device called an ultrasound machine, which typically includes a handheld wand or probe that is applied directly to the skin.
When the ultrasound waves are applied to the body, they create vibrations in the tissues, including muscles, tendons, and ligaments. These vibrations can help to improve circulation, reduce inflammation, and stimulate the body’s natural healing processes.
There are two main types of ultrasound therapy: thermal and non-thermal. Thermal ultrasound therapy uses high-frequency sound waves to produce heat in the tissues, which can help to relax muscles, increase blood flow, and promote healing. Non-thermal ultrasound therapy, also known as pulsed ultrasound therapy, uses sound waves to create a mechanical vibration in the tissues, which can help to reduce pain and inflammation.
What can I expect during an ultrasound therapy session?
During an ultrasound therapy session, you can expect the following:
- You may be asked to change into a gown or wear loose, comfortable clothing that allows easy access to the area being treated.
- The healthcare provider will apply a special gel to the skin over the area being treated. This gel helps to improve the transmission of the ultrasound waves and ensures that the wand or probe moves smoothly over the skin.
- The healthcare provider will then move the handheld wand or probe over the area being treated in a circular motion. You may feel a slight warming sensation as the ultrasound waves penetrate the tissues.
The session typically lasts between 5 and 15 minutes, although the duration and frequency of treatments can vary depending on the specific condition being treated.
Does it hurt?
Ultrasound therapy is generally not painful. During the session, you may feel a slight warming or tingling sensation in the area being treated as the ultrasound waves penetrate the tissues.
How long does ultrasound therapy take to start working?
In some cases, people may experience immediate relief of symptoms after just one session of ultrasound therapy. However, for most people, it can take several sessions over the course of several weeks to achieve significant improvement in symptoms.
How many sessions are needed?
Typically, a course of ultrasound therapy consists of 6 to 12 sessions, which are usually scheduled over the course of several weeks.
Are there any risks?
Ultrasound therapy is generally considered a safe and non-invasive treatment option with few risks. However, like any medical procedure, there is a small risk of side effects or complications which may include:
- Skin irritation: The gel used to improve the transmission of the ultrasound waves can sometimes cause mild skin irritation or redness.
- Tissue damage: Prolonged exposure to high-intensity ultrasound waves can potentially cause tissue damage, although this is rare.
What are the benefits of ultrasound therapy over other treatments?
Ultrasound therapy is a non-invasive, low-risk treatment option that can offer several benefits over other treatment options for certain conditions. Some of the potential benefits of ultrasound therapy include:
- Non-invasive: Ultrasound therapy does not require any incisions or injections, making it a less invasive option compared to some other treatments.
- Low-risk: Ultrasound therapy is generally considered a safe treatment option with few risks or side effects.
- Targeted: Ultrasound waves can be directed to specific areas of the body, allowing for targeted treatment of specific conditions.
Does ultrasound therapy work?
Unfortunately there are no high quality studies that demonstrate effectiveness of ultrasound therapy. With respect to back pain, specifically, the North American Spine Society (NASS) treatment guidelines point out that there is conflicting evidence that ultrasound provides pain relief in patients with chronic low back pain.
However, given its safety and theoretical benefits, ultrasound is frequently incorporated into treatment plans and physical therapy.