How Does Ultrasound Work In Physical Therapy?

Therapeutic ultrasound technology is a treatment modality utilized in physical therapy. Therapists utilize these modalities to provide deep heating to soft tissues (e.g., ligaments, joints, tendons, and muscles) in their patients’ bodies. It is important not to confuse physical therapy’s version of ultrasound with diagnostic ultrasound. The latter is used to examine the inside of a patient’s body, e.g., checking on a fetus during pregnancy.

How does Ultrasound Technology work?

Every ultrasound unit in physical therapy contains a small crystal. When an electrical charge is applied to it, the crystal vibrates rapidly and creates piezoelectric waves. The ultrasound sound head then emits these waves as ultrasonic sound waves. These elements enter the patient’s injured tissues to increase cavitation and blood flow, which are the theorized benefits of the treatment.

Cavitation is a non-thermal effect that causes microscopic gas to bubble around your tissues and contract and expand rapidly. This helps speed up cellular processes and allow injured tissues to heal. Ultrasound can also create deep heating effects to improve circulation within a patient’s ligaments, muscles, and tendons. In addition to speeding up the healing process, increasing tissue temperature also helps alleviate pain and improve range of motion. For example, ultrasound has been used to treat frozen shoulder issues.

Types of Injuries that can be Treated with Ultrasound

Today, ultrasound technology is used to treat a wide array of orthopedic injuries, including:

  • Joint tightness or contracture
  • Ligament injuries
  • Sprains
  • Frozen shoulders
  • Muscle tears and strains
  • Tendonitis
  • Bursitis

Because any soft tissue injury may be a candidate for ultrasound therapy, physical therapists will use the technology for ankle sprains, knee meniscus tears, rotator cuff tears, neck pain, and lower back pain.

Treating Chronic Pain with Ultrasound

Patients suffering from chronic pain have benefitted from ultrasound treatments. The waves help improve tissue circulation and extensibility, increasing overall mobility and decreasing pain. If you have chronic, unremitting pain, ultrasound modalities may be the treatment that you need.

How is Ultrasound Treatment Performed?

Ultrasound treatment is typically performed with an ultrasound transducer (sound head). A small amount of ultrasound gel will be applied to the injured body part. In some cases, topical medication may be combined with the gel to treat inflammation around the soft tissue. The physical therapist then slowly moves the sound head via small circular movements. Modern ultrasound units offer various settings that allow physical therapists to control the depth of penetration or the intensity of the ultrasound waves. These settings are adjusted according to the patient’s current stage of healing.

When should Ultrasound be Avoided?

There are some circumstances when patients should avoid ultrasound treatment. For example, pregnant women should not use ultrasound technology to treat their orthopedic problems. Consult with your physical therapist if you have:

  • An implanted electrical stimulation device
  • Fractured bones
  • Pacemaker
  • Metal implants (e.g., for a total knee replacement procedure)
  • Body areas with decreased sensation
  • Metastatic lesions
  • Open wounds

If you are considering modalities and manual therapy solutions such as ultrasound, Excel Physical Therapy is qualified to provide the advice you need. Contact us today for more information!

Leave a Comment