Therapeutic Ultrasound Explained
The concept of ultrasound was first introduced in the 1880s with the discovery of emitting sounds waves from an alternating electric field. It wasn’t until the further evolvement of Physical Medicine in the 1950s when diagnostic ultrasound was developed. New excitements were developing as research was being conducted for patients with sciatic pain, sprains, and circulatory disorders. Since then, numerous studies have been conducted to expand the validity of therapeutic ultrasound used today.
Therapeutic ultrasound has been proven to produce a rise in tissue temperatures to assist with reduction of muscle guarding, increasing tissue extensibility, increasing blood flow, and creating a decrease in pain perception. Depending on the frequency and intensity of the ultrasound treatment, tissues can be heated with a frequency of 3 MHz being used for superficial treatment and 1MHz getting into deeper tissues. Increasing blood flow to tissues may assist with nutrient supply to the area, tissue repair facilitation, or to rid of inflammation byproducts with the goal of healing peripheral nerve injuries, tendons, ligaments, muscle, fractures, and wounds by speeding up the recovery process through protein/collagen synthesis and cellular proliferation.
Why all the gel? Ultrasound must be used with a coupling medium, since its waves are unable to travel through air alone, with the goal of eliminating the amount of air between the ultrasound head and contact with one’s body. Gel may also be coupled with medications, such as dexamethasone or hydrocortisone, to help improve the effects of pain reduction. Consistent movement of the ultrasound head is also critical to prevent burns through “hot spots” when the device is not moving. Smooth and rhythmic motions are commonly used to allow for even distribution of the energy.
In summary, ultrasound is a form of acoustic/sound energy emitting waves with thermal and non-thermal properties depending on frequency, intensity, and duration. It has been proven to be an effective means in physical therapy practice for warming tissues, healing facilitation, and pain management.
If you have further questions regarding Ultrasound in your treatment or would like more information on how this treatment could help you specifically, please talk to one of our physical therapists.