Ultrasound therapy is a relatively new form of treatment that is now being implemented by health professionals to help patients with a wide variety of painful conditions. The therapy uses sound waves to enhance healing deep within tissues. Ultrasound therapy has become a popular method among physical therapists to help their patients overcome common muscle and joint problems. Ultrasound devices are available in a wide range of sizes and types to allow convenient use of this technology for healing and pain reduction.

Ultrasound Therapy - How Does Ultrasound Therapy Work?
University of Hertfordshire Sport Science photography by Pete Stevens

What Is Ultrasound Therapy?

Ultrasound therapy is a type of mechanical energy that uses sound waves that are above the range of hearing to heal tissues. Therapists may use a variety of frequencies and intensities to stimulate natural body processes. Many different types of ultrasound machines are used for this purpose, from small portable devices that can be used at home, to more complex equipment in therapy facilities.

History of Ultrasound Therapy

Ultrasound devices have been studied since the 1930s and were sometimes implemented for military use. The technology’s effects caused it to be studied for heating of tissues for medical treatment. Most people are familiar with ultrasound technology as a diagnostic method, but it has also achieved significant notice as a therapy tool to aid tissue healing and improve physical function. Today, the design of ultrasound devices have made it easy to use by a variety of health professionals to help their patients overcome discomfort and problems with function.

Why Are Ultrasound Machines Used?

Ultrasound devices are used to provide deep heating to sore and inured tissues of the body, as well as to improve the function of muscles by increasing circulation and by “cavitation,” a process of expanding and contracting gas bubbles around tissues. A small crystal within the ultrasound device is activated with an electrical charge, which produces piezoelectric waves. The waves emit from the device as ultrasound waves. These waves enter in tissue through a hand-held device that is moved over the surface of the body. The device can be manipulated to provide various levels of healing. Your therapist will thoroughly review your medical condition to determine if ultrasound therapy is right for your needs. Although the therapy is not effective for every case, you may find it helpful for healing of injuries and improve physical mobility.

Conditions Ultrasound Therapy Can Help

Generally, ultrasound therapy can be used for any soft tissue injury. Therapists commonly use it for low back pain, rotator cuff tears, ankle sprains and knee meniscus tears. It can also be therapeutic for tendonitis, bursitis, frozen shoulder, muscle sprains and ligament sprains. The therapy can also be helpful in relieving joint tightness and problems with range of motion. Ultrasound therapy is increasing in use for chronic pain conditions, by delivering warmth deep into tissues, increasing circulation and improving muscle extensibility. Individuals using the therapy experience less pain and greater mobility.

Benefits of Ultrasound Therapy

The effects of increased tissue circulation can help to reduce discomfort and permit improved mobility. It improves nutrient transfer within tissues for improved healing. Ultrasound therapy can help to improve pain and can be used along with other therapies, to enhance pain management measures. It can help to reduce inflammation in tissue and stimulate healing processes.

Side Effects of Ultrasound Therapy

Generally, ultrasound therapy produces no side effects, and patients can continue their usual activities after a session. Ultrasound machines are carefully designed to deliver precise frequencies of sound waves to the body. Your therapist should have appropriate training on the device, to ensure your safety. In rare cases, individuals may receive tissue damage from the device being held in the same position for a long period of time. Ultrasound should not be used in cases of cancer, during pregnancy, on open wounds or near pacemakers or total joint replacements. Nor should it be used near the eyes or reproductive organs. Individuals who have diminished temperature sensation should not have ultrasound therapy, because they would not be able to detect any excessive warmth or problems during treatment.

Ultrasound therapy offers an alternative method for standard pain management techniques that can safely be used along with other types of treatment. Recognized as safe and useful therapeutic measure, it is helping millions of people who suffer from a variety of painful conditions.