Ultrasound treatment is an effective popular and frequently used method in physiotherapy practice to relieve musculoskeletal pain and even (for example) to cure inflammation. When you hear the word ultrasound, you might think of ultrasound scans for pregnancy or abdominal complaints, but they are not just used for diagnostic purposes.
What is ultrasound?
Sound is a mechanical vibration.
- Sound waves with a vibration frequency of less than 20 Hz are infrasound (you can’t hear them),
- Sounds between 20 and 20,000 Hz are those that are audible to the human ear,
- above 20,000 Hz we are talking about ultrasound – you can’t hear these vibrations either.
Medical applications of ultrasound
Ultrasound has been used in medicine since 1938. Today it is used for diagnostic, surgical and therapeutic purposes. Excellent (among other things)
- for gallstone and gallstone extraction,
- for “cutting” tissue (as a surgical knife),
- ultrasonic inhalation (e.g., in drug nebulizers and salt therapy devices),
- for the removal of tartar (in dentistry),
- diagnosis (for example, examination of internal organs or even of a developing foetus in utero),
- in physiotherapy, for the treatment of musculoskeletal disorders and to reduce inflammation.
The effects of ultrasound treatment
- relaxes tight, stiff muscles,
- beneficial in the case of arthritis, muscle inflammation and wear and tear,
- helps to relieve haematomas,
- reduces inflammatory processes (e.g. tendonitis and tendonitis),
- relieves nerve root pain caused by herniated discs, lumbar sprains and sciatica (reduces oedema around the root),
- relieves neuritic complaints,
- improves lymphatic circulation, etc.
How does ultrasound treatment work?
The ultrasound beam is a mechanical vibration. The tissue through which it passes receives the vibration. This is called micromassage.
The vibration of the tissue (i.e. mechanical energy) is converted into thermal energy. The tissues are warmed up, their blood circulation is accelerated, which is also a direct way to enhance the healing process. Heat also has a tendon and muscle relaxant, analgesic and vasodilator effect.
Three types of beneficial effects of ultrasound are also used in treatment:
- the mechanical effect inducing micro-massage,
- the thermal effect, i.e. the warming of tissues, the stimulation of blood and lymph circulation and the healing process,
- and chemical action to improve oxygenation and vasodilation.
To summarise: it is not the ultrasound beam itself that heals, but the effect of the ultrasound beam that triggers and activates the body’s self-healing processes. The ultrasound beam is to the disease as when you push the stationary swing – it gets going. So ultrasound treatment triggers the positive processes and your body “takes care of the rest”.
Don’t underestimate it! Think how powerful these processes are: if you break a bone, all the doctors do is fix it. You don’t get medicine, and there’s no doctor near you, but weeks later you’re healed. That’s how your body deals with infections and inflammation if you help it! Ultrasound helps with this.
What can you use ultrasound for?
Ultrasound treatment can address conditions like osteoarthritis, muscle sprains, sports injuries, tendon adhesions, tendon sheath lesions, bone growths, and tendon shrinkage, among others. It has a variety of uses in addition to healing.
Click here to read more about the applications of ultrasound
Can ultrasound treatment be harmful?
You can overdose on ultrasound treatment. There can also be adverse effects if you treat an area at too high an intensity and for too long. The main effect of ultrasound comes from heating up the tissue. If too much is given to an area at once, it stops healing rather than helping it. Think of it like sun exposure. If you sunbathe regularly for 15-20 minutes, you will slowly tan, but if you go outside for 3-4 hours at a time, you will not tan, you will burn. Ultrasound, used in appropriate and regular doses, helps.
Some tissues (e.g., eyeballs, testicles, ovaries, thyroid) should not undergo treatment. Before using ultrasound therapy, gain proper knowledge about suitable dosing, consult your doctor to determine the most appropriate treatment intensity, time, and frequency! For dosing rules for ultrasound treatment, see my article on this topic