Therapeutic Ultrasound

Therapeutic Ultrasound


Article by I.Kelly, J. Ferguson, S. Tobin


Therapeutic Ultrasound

Therapeutic ultrasound is a modality that has been used by physiotherapists since the 1940s. Ultrasound is applied using the head of an ultrasound probe placed in direct contact with your skin via a transmission coupling gel.

Therapeutic ultrasound may increase:

  • healing rates
  • tissue relaxation
  • tissue heating
  • local blood flow
  • scar tissue breakdown.

How Can Therapeutic Ultrasound Help You?


therapeutic ultrasound

The effect of therapeutic ultrasound via an increase in local blood flow may help reduce local swelling and chronic inflammation, and, according to some studies, promote bone fracture healing. The intensity or power density of the ultrasound can be adjusted depending on the desired effect. A higher power density (measured in watt/cm2) may soften or breakdown scar tissue.

What is Phonophoresis?

Ultrasound can assist phonophoresis. This treatment is a non-invasive way of administering medications to tissues below the skin; perfect for patients who are uncomfortable with injections. With this technique, the ultrasonic energy forces the drug through the skin. Cortisone used to reduce inflammation, is one of the more commonly used substances delivered in this way.

The most common conditions treated with ultrasound include soft tissue injuries such as tendonitis (or tendinitis if you prefer), non-acute joint swelling and muscle spasm. Most muscle and ligament injuries can benefit from therapeutic ultrasound.

Mastitis is another condition that responds positively to therapeutic ultrasound.

What is an Ultrasound Dose?

A typical ultrasound treatment will take from 3-5 minutes. In cases where scar tissue breakdown is the goal, this treatment time can be much longer. During the procedure, the head of the ultrasound probe constant motion. If kept in continuous motion, the patient should feel no discomfort at all.

Some conditions treated with ultrasound include tendonitis (or tendinitis if you prefer), non-acute joint swelling and muscle spasm.

How Does an Ultrasound Work?

A piezoelectric effect caused by the vibration of crystals within the head of the probe generates the ultrasound waves. The ultrasound waves that pass through the skin cause a vibration of the local soft tissues. This vibration or cavitation can cause a deep heating locally though usually no sensation of heat will be felt by the patient. In situations where a heating effect is not desirable, such as a fresh injury with acute inflammation, the ultrasound can be pulsed rather than continuously transmitted.

When Should Ultrasound be Avoided?

Contraindications of ultrasound include local malignancy, over metal implants, local acute infection, vascular abnormalities, and directly on the abdomen of pregnant women. Ultrasound should not be applied directly over specific body parts. Contraindicated areas include: active epiphyseal regions (growth plates) in children, over the spinal cord in the region of a laminectomy, or the eyes, skull, or testes.

Like all medical equipment, when used by highly trained professionals such as your physiotherapist, therapeutic ultrasound is very unlikely to cause any adverse effects. Please consult your physiotherapist for their professional opinion on the best use of therapeutic ultrasound and your injury.

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