For the last 80 years, ultrasound therapy has been used as a non-invasive procedure to treat a wide variety of ailments. It is often used to treat swelling, particularly when the swelling is spread over a larger area than usual. It can also be used for phonophoresis, which is when medicine is administered via the skin without injection. This makes ultrasound therapy suitable when typical methods are unsuitable for a patient, such as one who has a fear of needles, or haemophiliacs.
What is it?
The best way to describe ultrasound therapy is by simply thinking of ultrasounds given to pregnant women, as the technology is largely the same. Small, handheld probes are placed on the problem area combined with gel or cream, which may be medicated depending on the condition in question. The probe vibrates, sending waves through the skin and into the body. These waves cause the underlying tissue to vibrate, which can have a variety of benefits which we will look at below.
In general, ultrasound therapy sessions will last no longer than 5 minutes. This simply involves applying the gel or cream, and then rubbing the probe around the affected area.
The waves sent through the body have several broadly applicable benefits, making ultrasound therapy suitable for a wide range of issues. As well as heating and relaxing the muscles, ultrasound therapy breaks down scar tissue and increases local blood flow. All of this combines to increase healing rates in the area, making it a suitable way to speed up slow-healing or chronic issues. We now think that it can also encourage the repair of damaged bones. More recently, it has been used to reduce pain from conditions such as osteoporosis and arthritis.
What is it used for?
Since the benefits of ultrasound are so broad, it can be used for a huge range of issues. However, it is usually reserved for problems with swollen muscles, particularly when time is a factor in the recovery.
The heating and relaxing benefits help to alleviate muscle pain, while the increased flow to the affected area will mean that more lymph passes through. Lymph is a clear fluid that carries white blood cells throughout our body, which fights infection, encourages healing, and removes excess fluid. These three factors combined make it a very effective way to treat swelling and inflammation, not only of the muscles, but also of the joints and ligaments. Issues such as tendonitis, not-acute joint swelling, and chronic inflammation are some of the most commonly treated issues.
What are the risks?
Ultrasound therapy is a very low-risk, non-invasive procedure. That being said, there are times when it is unsuitable to use. Despite its similarity to ultrasound machines, ultrasound therapy is not suitable for issues located near the womb of a pregnant woman. The wavelengths used in this therapy are different to those used in a prenatal ultrasound, and could put the pregnancy at risk. However, the therapy can still be used on other parts of the body, regardless of whether or not a woman is pregnant.
Ultrasound therapy may also be unsuitable for people with malignant growths, or cardiovascular issues. But again, this can depend on where the therapy is to take place on the body. Ultrasound therapy is completely unsuitable anywhere on the head or testicles, and above any metal implants. It is generally avoided over the spine, and the growth plates of children, as it may have unintended consequences.