Ultrasound therapy is a form of physical therapy that uses high-frequency sound waves to transfer heat into specific injured areas of your body. Ultrasound therapy is used worldwide by physical therapists and occupational therapists to treat a variety of painful conditions such as tendonitis, arthritis, fibromyalgia and musculoskeletal injuries. Ultrasound therapy is known to help stimulate the healing process by increasing blood flow and decreasing pain and inflammation. However, as with all medical treatments, there are some risks to consider before using ultrasound therapy.
According to the Food and Drug Administration (FDA), sound waves from ultrasound therapy should not come into contact with any organs of your body. These highly sensitive organs include the following: heart, kidneys, liver, lungs, stomach, spleen, bowels, eyes, ears, ovaries, testicles, brain and spinal cord. Also, the sound waves should not come in contact over mucous membrane areas of the body, which include the mouth, nose, rectum and vagina. Further, ultrasound should not be used over areas of the body that have a metal implant embedded (e.g. pacemaker) as well as over any active growth plates (epiphyseal regions) in children.
Ultrasound therapy should not be used on patients who have certain diseases, illnesses and/or conditions. The following are some examples; hemophilia (bleeding disorder), spina bifida, tissues or bones that have active infection (e.g. opens sores), cancerous or pre-cancerous cells, de-sensitized areas of the skin (diabetic neuropathy), untreated osteomyelitis (bone infection), deep vein thrombosis and cardiac disease. Also, it is very important that ultrasound sound waves do not go over the abdomen and lower back (lumbar) region of pregnant women or potentially pregnant women.
Equipment Operation Precautions
According to Health Canada’s website, the operator of the ultrasound device has many precautions that they need to take before and during therapy. One, the operator should check the calibration of the device at least once a week to make sure that the ultrasonic power and built-in timer are accurate. Two, monthly maintenance and testing of the applicator (head of the transducer) should be done to see if it is providing a uniform and equal amount of power. Lastly, the operator should minimize exposure to their patients and themselves by keeping the applicator facing the skin of the injured area while it is emitting ultrasound.
Since there is little scientific evidence to explain exactly how ultrasound works and there are some doctors and scientists who dispute its therapeutic effects, per the American Physical Therapy Association. Some studies say ultrasound therapy either works really well or not at all for patients (especially for chronic pain). Also, some scientists believe ultrasound gives people a false sense of security because it makes people feel better since the pain is gone. Thus, patients think they are healed and they resume normal activities and/or sports and then sometimes reinjured themselves.
Other Physical Therapy Treatments
If you do not want or cannot have ultrasound therapy, there are several other forms of physical therapy according to Merck.com that may treat your pain condition. Electrical stimulation in low levels can reduce your pain and teach your muscles to contract again. Hydrotherapy (water therapy) can be used as treatment in the form of Jacuzzis, hot tubs and heated pools. Hot and cold therapy in the form of compresses help to reduce pain and inflammation. Manual therapy (use of hands instead of machines) in the form of massage, mobilization and manipulation can be used to treat your pain.
References and ResourcesGuidelines for the Safe Use of Ultrasound
Types of Physical Therapy Treatments
ResourcesAmerican Physical Therapy Association
Physical Therapy Treatments
Health Canada: Guidelines for the Safe Use of Ultrasound