What Is Therapeutic Ultrasound?
Therapeutic Ultrasound is a treatment modality that uses sound waves to create deep heat in soft tissues of the body, including muscle, tendons, ligaments, and fascia (Sears, 2016).
How Ultrasound Works:
Ultrasound uses soundwaves which pass through the skin and cause vibration of the soft tissue. The vibration then causes deep heating within the tissue. This heat can produce a number of different therapeutic effects including: Increased flexibility/extensibility of scar tissue, tendons, and joints, relief of pain and spasm from muscles, and increased blood flow to the area which can help reduce inflammation (Paliwal, Mitragotri, 2008).
Common Conditions Treated with Ultrasound:
– Sprains/tears in muscle
– Sprains/injury to ligament
Is Therapeutic Ultrasound Supported by Research?
There are some conditions that ultrasound has been found to be effective in treating, including Calcific Tendonitis and Carpal Tunnel Syndrome. For patients with Calcific Tendonitis, ultrasound can help to temporarily alleviate symptoms and can stimulate reabsorption of calcium deposits (Sil, Das, Chakrabarti, 2015). In patients with Carpal Tunnel Syndrome, ultrasound (when paired with wrist orthosis) can significantly improve their function and decrease severity of symptoms (Chang, Hsieh, Horng, Chen, Lee, Horng, 2014). Ultrasound has also been found to have a positive effect on osteoarthritis. Zhang, Xie, Luo, Ji, Lu, He, Wang (2016), found that patients receiving ultrasound therapy for osteoarthritis of the knee experienced a decrease in pain and an increase in function.
Systematic reviews of the literature however suggest that ultrasound alone offers little benefit to overall healing. In a systematic review done by Chinn, Clough, & Cloughuse (2010) it was found that there was little difference between healing in individuals receiving real ultrasounds versus those receiving placebo ultrasounds. Interestingly, the majority of the studies included in the review showed minor positive results in both placebo and real ultrasound intervention groups. Multiple explanations have been suggested as to why this might be, including: Extra attention to the area, massage effect of transducer head, or possibly the placebo effect causing the positive change. Overall, ultrasound has been found to yield positive results in some conditions and may help injury healing in combination with an exercise program, but more research and randomized controlled trials are needed to determine the exact effects of ultrasound on soft tissue injuries.
– Chang, Y., Hsieh, S., Horng, Y., Chen, H., Lee, K., & Horng, Y. (2014). Comparative effectiveness of ultrasound and paraffin therapy in patients with carpal tunnel syndrome: a randomized trial. BMC Musculoskeletal Disorders, 15399. doi:10.1186/1471-2474-15-399
– Chinn, N. E., Clough, A. E., & Clough, P. J. (2010). Does therapeutic ultrasound have a clinical evidence base for treating soft tissue injuries? International Musculoskeletal Medicine, 32(4), 178-181. doi:10.1179/1753615410Y.0000000003
– Paliwal, S., & Mitragotri, S. (2008). Therapeutic opportunities in biological responses of ultrasound. Ultrasonics, 48271-278. doi:10.1016/j.ultras.2008.02.002
– Sears, B. (2016, August 31). What Does Therapeutic Ultrasound Do in Physical Therapy? Retrieved from: https://www.verywell.com/therapeutic-ultrasound-in-physical-therapy-2696419
– Sil, B., Das, T. K., & Chakrabarti, A. (2015). Calcific tendonitis: management by ultrasound therapy. Journal Of Evolution Of Medical And Dental Sciences, (70), 12252. doi:10.14260/jemds/2015/1766
– Zhang, C., Xie, Y., Luo, X., Ji, Q., Lu, C., He, C., & Wang, P. (2016). Effects of therapeutic ultrasound on pain, physical functions and safety outcomes in patients with knee osteoarthritis: a systematic review and meta-analysis. Clinical Rehabilitation, 30(10), 960-971.