Therapeutic Ultrasound for Pain Management

Ultrasound therapy is a treatment modality used by professionals and physiotherapists to treat pain conditions and to promote tissue healing. Ultrasound therapy uses sound waves that are above the range of human hearing to treat injuries like muscle strains or runner’s knee. There are many flavors of therapeutic ultrasound with different intensities and different frequencies but all share the basic principle of “stimulation”. To be honest, ultrasound therapy is not effective for all chronic pain conditions, but it does help you if you have any of the following:

Osteoarthritis

Myofascial pain

Bursitis

Carpal tunnel Syndrome

Pain caused by scar tissue

Phantom limb pain

Sprains and strains

Sports Injuries and wounds

Science behind Ultrasound Therapy

The ultrasound device generally comprises of a unit to control parameters and a quartz crystal transducer (head/applicator) attached to it.  Ultrasound therapy causes mechanical vibrations, from high frequency sound waves, on skin and soft tissue via an aqueous solution (Gel). A gel is applied either to the applicator head or to the skin, which helps the sound waves to evenly penetrate the skin.

The ultrasound applicator converts power from the device into acoustic power that can cause thermal or non-thermal effects.  The sound waves creates microscopic stimulation in the deep tissue molecules that increases heat and friction. The warming effect encourages and promotes healing in the soft tissues by increasing the metabolism at the level of the tissue cells. The parameters such as frequency, time duration and intensity are set on the device by the professionals.

How does it feel during Ultrasound Therapy?

Some people may feel a mild pulsing during ultrasound therapy, while others might feel a slight warmth on the skin. However people may feel nothing at all besides the cold gel that has been applied on the skin. In exceptional cases, if your skin is too much sensitive to touch, you could possibly feel discomfort as the ultrasound applicator passes over the skin. Ultrasound therapy, however, is never painful.

How Ultrasound is effective in chronic pain?

One of the most widely used modalities in the field of physiotherapy for treating chronic pain and Low Back Pain (LBP) is therapeutic ultrasound. Therapeutic ultrasound is used frequently by many physiotherapists around the world. It is a one-way energy delivery which utilizes a crystal sound head to transmit acoustic waves at 1 or 3 MHz. The heating, thus generated, is proposed to increase nerve conduction velocity, alter local vascular perfusion, increase enzymatic activity, alter contractile activity of skeletal muscle, and increase nociceptive threshold.

Ultrasound therapy is frequently used in the treatment of knee, shoulder and hip pain and is often combined with other therapeutic modalities. The treatment usually takes 2-6 treatment sessions and thus ideally lowers pain.

Is Ultrasound Therapy Safe?

Ultrasound therapy is considered safe by the US FDA. You just need to take care of some points like it is performed by a professional and provided that the therapist keeps the applicator head moving at all times. If the applicator head remains in one place for a longer time, there is a chance to burn the tissues underneath, which you will definitely feel.
Ultrasound therapy should not be used on these body parts:

  Over the abdomen or lower back in pregnant women
  Exactly on broken skin or healing fractures
  On eyes, breasts or sexual organs
  On areas with metal implants or people with pacemakers
  Over or near areas with malignant tumors

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