Dr. Zatrok's blog
Dr. Zatrok's blog

Dr. Zatrok's blog

Ultrasound Therapy: Medical and Beauty Applications

by Dr. Zsolt Zatrok

Ultrasound, a high-frequency sound wave beyond the range of human hearing, has found diverse applications in both medicine and beauty care. In this guide, we’ll explore the science behind ultrasound, briefly its role in medical diagnostics, and in more detail its therapeutic applications for musculoskeletal issues and skincare. From its impact on tissue heating to its use in cellulite reduction, we’ll delve into the multifaceted world of ultrasound therapy.

The Basics of Ultrasound

Ultrasound operates beyond the audible spectrum, making it imperceptible to the human ear. Widely utilized in medical examinations, it serves as a valuable tool in visualizing internal organs, tissues, and abnormalities. Whether applied in the fields of internal medicine, obstetrics, gastroenterology, angiology, or cardiology, ultrasound provides detailed images crucial for diagnosis.

Application of Ultrasound in Healthcare and Beauty industries

The ultrasound is most commonly encountered during your examinations. In the offices of internal medicine, obstetrics, gastroenterology, angiology, or cardiology, ultrasound beams directed into your body “outline” the contours and condition of your organs, vessels, etc. Normal and abnormal sizes, tissue structures, and unexpected formations can be seen. These images help determine the cause of your complaints and establish a diagnosis.

Ultrasound therapy is applied for musculoskeletal issues (joint and tendon inflammation, muscle pains, contractures, etc.) and dermatological/cosmetic treatments.

Ultrasound Frequencies and Their Applications in Musculoskeletal Therapy

For musculoskeletal issues, generally, 1MHz ultrasound is used because these waves can penetrate up to 10-15 cm deep into the body. In contrast, the 3MHz ultrasound reaches a maximum depth of 2-3 cm, so its primary application is in the treatment of the skin and can also be used for superficially located tendons and small joints (e.g., finger joints). However, frequencies lower than 640KHz are particularly effective for cavitation treatments.

From the above, it follows that the 3MHz device is not suitable for treating, for example, the knee or hip joint because these waves cannot penetrate deep enough. However, they are 100% effective on the surface. Meanwhile, the 1MHz ultrasound has a significantly smaller impact on the skin and superficial tissues, while still reaching deeper areas. Both 1 and 3 MHz ultrasounds have minimal cavitation effects, and frequencies below 640KHz have no significant therapeutic effects but are suitable for fat breakdown.

How Does Ultrasound Therapy Work?

Ultrasound therapy needs to be focused directly on inflamed tissues. The treatment head emitting ultrasound waves at the right intensity should be placed directly on the skin. The use of ultrasound gel is mandatory to ensure proper penetration. The treatment head should be moved slowly and in circular motions over the painful area. It is crucial not to ‘stop’ at a specific point; the head must be in constant motion.

The Main Effect is Induced by Tissue Heating

Ultrasound penetrates tissues, generating heat that boosts circulation, aiding in metabolite elimination and alleviating pain. The gradual effects arise from stimulating the body’s self-healing ability. Pain, inflammation, and swelling diminish, promoting relaxation in muscles, ligaments, tendons, and joints.

Tissues warm up due to the ultrasound. The sequence is bone, tendons, ligaments, nerves, muscles, skin, internal organs, and least of all, adipose tissue. Bones are the most sensitive to ultrasound treatment.

If you use 1MHz ultrasound on your face, most of the rays pass through your skin to the deeper tissue layers, directly warming the facial bones. The application of 1MHz has a significantly smaller effect on the face compared to 3MHz ultrasound. On the face, the 3MHz frequency is entirely utilized in the superficial layers, resulting in a stronger impact.

You cannot administer ultrasound ‘unlimitedly’ to the same area. Treat only for the necessary duration at a time. Treat every other day or once a day if needed. For a palm-sized area, no more than 5-10 minutes are necessary per session!

Do not treat for an extended period, even if you have the time! Over-treating an area with high intensity and for too long can have harmful effects. The main effect of ultrasound comes from tissue heating. If an area receives too much at once, it does not aid but hinders healing.

Mechanical Effect = Micro-Massage

As mentioned before, ultrasound is a mechanical vibration that essentially “massages” the cells. This stimulates microcirculation and cell function. The permeability of the skin and cell membranes improves, making it easier for active ingredients to penetrate deeper. For instance, the active ingredients of creams or cosmetics applied to the skin reach deeper, enhancing their effectiveness. This is the reason it’s employed in beauty treatments to deliver anti-wrinkle and skin-firming cosmetics. The face utilizes 3MHz ultrasound, while for cellulite on the buttocks, hips, and thighs, both 1MHz and 3MHz are applicable.

Fat-Breakdown Effect – Cavitation

If you keep the ultrasound therapy device in one place for a long time, the cells of your fatty tissue heat up, creating tiny bubbles that want to “escape.” The ultrasound waves rupture fat cell walls, releasing the fat, which your lymphatic system and circulation then carry away. Beauty treatments utilize this effect for breaking down fat.

Significant fat breakdown occurs with frequencies below 640KHz, and devices using such frequencies (such as the LipoZero G150 cavitation cosmetic ultrasound) can achieve a reduction of 2-3 cm in hip and thigh circumference with 10 treatments.

Caution! Many distributors claim a cavitation effect for every ultrasound device. Therapeutic or facial ultrasound devices with frequencies of 1 and 3 MHz do have some fat-breaking effects, but they fall far behind devices specifically designed for fat breakdown. It’s akin to car racing – you can speed with a Formula 1 car, but not with a Trabant (though the Trabant moves on the road).

Applications of Ultrasound Therapy

The above suggests ultrasound is beneficial for tissue heating, softening, blood circulation stimulation, and accelerating healing processes. It is particularly effective for treating inflammatory processes, especially chronic (stubborn) conditions. It also aids in the deep penetration of active ingredients, making it suitable for both medical and beauty care purposes.

Musculoskeletal Disorders

Ultrasound therapy is most extensively effective in the treatment of musculoskeletal disorders, inflammation, injuries, and the alleviation of associated pain.

  • For conditions such as herniated disc, “pinched nerve,” lumbago, and sciatica, it rapidly reduces swelling and edema of the nerve root, thereby relieving pain
  • Other conditions include spondylosis, disc abnormalities, fibromyalgia, bursitis, and periarthritis
  • It reduces inflammation in cases of tennis and golfer’s elbow
  • It relaxes stiff, tense muscles around painful areas, dispersing myalgic knots
  • It can be used for treating nerve inflammation (neuritis) and trigeminal neuralgia
  • Effective in reducing symptoms of arthritis and arthrosis
  • Beneficial for conditions such as Duplay’s disease, Dupuytren’s contracture-related tendon stiffness, tendon sheath inflammation, muscle stiffness (e.g., stiff neck, torticollis), and muscle spasms
  • It aids in reducing hematomas (bruises) 2-3 days after the hematoma formation (may enhance fresh bleeding)

Preparation for Physical Therapy

Ultrasound warms up and relaxes, making muscles and tendons more flexible. Ultrasound treatment before physical therapy specifically reduces pain caused by exercises and enhances the effectiveness of the exercises.

Similarly beneficial before manual massage. Treating painful muscle knots before massage reduces discomfort from the massage and allows the masseur to perform more effectively.

Acceleration of Drug and Active Ingredient Absorption

Ultrasound waves “loosen” cell membranes, allowing various active ingredients and medications to penetrate deeper into the body, improving their absorption. This effect is known as phonophoresis.

Utilize this approach in Peyronie’s disease (induration penis plastica) to deliver active ingredients into the hard knot (plaque) causing curvature in the penis. (Alternatively, achieving this would require an injection into the penis.)

The effectiveness of cosmetic products can also be enhanced with ultrasound treatment. Ensure that only gentle, low-intensity waves are applied on the face!

Cosmetic Applications of Ultrasound Therapy

Ultrasound therapy is extensively used not only in healing but also in the field of beauty. Ultrasound helps in delivering cosmetic ingredients into deeper layers of the skin, treating cellulite and orange peel skin, anti-wrinkle and skin-firming applications, as well as addressing stubborn fat deposits and eliminating fat pads.

Cavitation: The Ultrasonic Approach to Fat Reduction

With a “true” cavitation ultrasound machine (frequencies below 640KHz), 10 treatments can reduce up to 2-4 cm in your waist circumference, for example. It is crucial to immediately follow cavitation treatment with a mechanical lymphatic massage or light exercise (swimming, jogging). Without this, the dissolved fat droplets may “solidify” again, and no effect will be retained.

Frequencies below 640KHz are crucial for significant fat breakdown, and devices like the LipoZero G15 cavitation cosmetic ultrasound, utilizing such frequencies, yield substantial results.

Many distributors attribute cavitation effects to every ultrasound device, but this is not the case. Their claims may be misleading. While therapeutic or facial ultrasound devices with frequencies of 1 and 3 MHz also have some fat-breaking effects, they fall far behind devices specifically designed for fat breakdown. The cavitation effect is only a small percentage for devices below 640KHz.

Cellulite Treatment with Ultrasound Therapy

In the presence of cellulite, the dermal layer of the skin accumulates waste materials, forming progressively larger nodules and resulting in an uneven surface reminiscent of an orange peel. Approximately 90% of adult women are believed to be affected by cellulite, particularly around the hips and thighs. Traditional dieting typically proves ineffective.

Ultrasound therapy emerges as a viable option for cellulite treatment. It serves to enhance local circulation and exerts a mild cavitation effect. Breaking down cellulite nodules releases harmful substances, subsequently eliminated through the circulatory system. Post-cellulite treatment, it is essential to engage in 30-40 minutes of active exercise (such as jogging or swimming) or employ a wave massage (lymphatic massage) device. Neglecting this follow-up may result in the reassembly of disintegrated nodules instead of their effective expulsion.

Wrinkle Treatment

Ultrasound therapy facilitates the penetration of active ingredients such as essential oils, fat-soluble vitamins (e.g., vitamins A and E), and water-soluble substances through the skin. Loosening tissues, it proves effective in beauty care, addressing wrinkle treatment.

Guidelines for Effective Ultrasonic Treatment

Emphasizing that the success of ultrasound treatment lies in specific dosages:

  • Inadequate treatment durations result in minimal benefits.
  • Doubling the treatment time may tax the tissues excessively, potentially hindering ongoing healing processes.
  • Overdoing it, with prolonged exposure to high-intensity radiation on a specific area, can lead to tissue damage, exacerbating concerns instead of offering relief.

It is crucial to apply ultrasound treatment under professional guidance and a confirmed diagnosis. Diligently adhere to the recommended intensity and duration tailored to your specific condition. Remember, more ultrasound doesn’t necessarily mean better outcomes. Conscientiously following these guidelines ensures you can anticipate the positive effects mentioned earlier. Read more about ultrasound dosing here.

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