What is Ultrasound?
Ultrasound is a type of mechanical energy that has been used for many years to treat chronic pain and improve the healing process. There are several specific ways our physical therapists can use ultrasound therapy to treat injuries and reduce pain.
How Ultrasound Technology Works
Ultrasound therapy is the use of sound waves to treat a variety of muscle, bone, and ligament conditions. The sound waves cause vibrations which generate heat. When tissues in the body are vibrating, the friction produced occurs at the molecular level. This ultimately causes the temperature in the tissues to rise. This is one of the many advantages that ultrasound application provides. It can penetrate deep into the tissues in ways that a hot pack cannot.
During a physical therapy appointment, gel or another medium is used on the surface of the applicator to minimize friction as well as to promote the transmission of the ultrasound waves. The waves are then absorbed by your tendons, ligaments, and connective tissues.
What Ultrasound Therapy Does in the Body
There are generally two ways ultrasound can work in your body to heal and repair tissues during physical therapy services. The first is that it provides thermal energy, or heat. The second is the non-thermal benefits.
- Thermal – When using ultrasound, heat enters the tissues at a deep level. This can increase circulation while reducing pain. Heat can also enable muscles to more easily stretch. Thermal energy produced by ultrasound during physical therapy can therefore loosen tight muscles and tendons.
- Non-Thermal – Ultrasound also works in specific ways that are unrelated to the transfer of heat. When energy enters the body through ultrasound it creates tiny gas bubbles that gather around the tissues. These bubbles contract and expand at a rapid pace, this is called cavitation.
Benefits of Ultrasound Therapy
- Increase Blood Flow – Just as cold decreases blood flow, heat will increase it. Ultrasound therapy will cause your blood vessels to increase in size and therefore increase the blood flow. Increased blood flow means more nutrients will be delivered to the area of your injury while waste is carried away. This ultimately enhances the healing process.
- Reduce Swelling and Inflammation – Ultrasound therapy has been shown to reduce stiffness in muscles and joints while increasing range of motion. Once blood flow is increased and swelling and inflammation is reduced, this will allow your muscles and joints to respond more favorably to manual stretching exercises and different types of massage.
- Promote Tissue Healing – Ultrasound not only improves your muscles and joint range of motion, but can aid in the healing of wounded tissues. The metabolism of the cells in the tissue are affected by ultrasound. The vibration produced by the ultrasound can help prevent scar tissue from forming.
Conditions Treated with Ultrasound
While increased blood flow, reduced swelling and inflammation, and tissue healing are general benefits of ultrasound, there are several specific conditions these processes can help heal. The following are a few of the physical conditions that can be treated.
- Bursitis and Tendonitis – Frozen shoulder can be associated with shoulder bursitis that can be effectively treated with ultrasound therapy.
- Muscle Strains and Tears – The use of ultrasound therapy can reduce the number of time sprains, strains, and tears take to heal.
- Muscle Spasms – Heat applied at various places on or near the site can help relax the muscles and decrease spasms.
- Rheumatoid Arthritis and Osteoarthritis – These are chronic conditions that respond well to the deep heat provided by ultrasound.
- Bone Fractures – Healing of bone fractures can be promoted by the use of low-intensity ultrasound. Ultrasound has also been found to be a more cost-efficient and less invasive tool for diagnosing certain types of stress fractures.
Other conditions and diseases that may be improved or healed include whiplash, phantom limb pain, dental pain, and even certain types of cancer.
How will ultrasound fit into my treatment plan?
A physical therapist who is trained in ultrasound therapy will be able to help you treat several types of ailments. Oftentimes, ultrasound therapy will precede different types of massage and exercise.
Our physical therapists’ goal is to alleviate your symptoms, promote healing, and maximize your ability to return to day-to-day functioning. Ultrasound in conjunction with active exercises prescribed by our physical therapists will improve your level of functioning and help to avoid future injury. Contact your closest Bay State Physical Therapy location today for more information regarding how ultrasound therapy can treat your condition.