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Risks and Benefits of Therapeutic Ultrasound

December 21, 2022
Can Ultrasound Therapy Cause Damage-min
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When people think of an ultrasound, they envision a doppler type of scan used to monitor pregnancies and to diagnose medical issues; however, an ultrasound can also be used for physical therapy.

Therapeutic ultrasound is a non-invasive, medication-free procedure that has been used in physical therapy to treat various chronic pain conditions since the 1940s. It is typically performed by a trained physical therapist in an outpatient setting; it is also used in hospitals for certain injuries and conditions during the recovery process.

In physical therapy, two types of therapeutic ultrasound are available: thermal (deep heating) and mechanical (cavitation). Thermal therapeutic ultrasound increases blood circulation and, in theory, promotes healing and decreases pain. Mechanical therapeutic ultrasound causes rapid expansion and contraction of tiny gas bubbles surrounding an injury, which, in theory, speeds up the healing process.

How Therapeutic Ultrasound Physical Therapy Works

The ultrasound machine uses crystals to create an electric current that is sent through the ultrasound probe. The probe, also known as the ultrasound wand, vibrates and creates ultrasound waves. These ultrasonic waves travel through the skin to the body underneath. The waves transport ultrasound energy to the tissues to cause the desired effects. Thermal ultrasound therapy can also be focused on deep tissues in your body without affecting other tissues close to the surface.

While therapeutic ultrasound is generally safe for most people, there are certain conditions and patients that are prohibited from its use. Keep reading to know the benefits and potential contraindications of therapeutic ultrasound.

Potential Benefits of Therapeutic Ultrasound in Physical Therapy

Exposing soft tissues to ultrasound leads to micro-vibrations occurring within the targeted tissue. These vibrations create heat energy, increasing blood circulation to the area. The increased blood flow increases the flow of chemicals in the blood, like oxygen, getting to the tissue, helping to heal any damaged tissues in the area. It helps to build up new tissues and improve their alignment so they have full strength and flexibility.

Some of the issues therapeutic ultrasound technology can be used to treat include the following:

  • Scar tissue pain
  • Osteoarthritis
  • Carpal Tunnel Syndrome
  • Bursitis
  • Myofascial Pain Syndrome
  • Phantom limb pain
  • Rheumatoid arthritis

Here are some of the benefits of addressing injured tissues that are causing chronic pain with therapeutic ultrasound treatment:

Improves Blood Circulation

Get your blood pumping! Increased blood flow can help reduce swelling around the injured tissue. It also reduces chronic inflammation, which is associated with several health issues (including arthritis).

If you have a fresh injury with acute inflammation, your physical therapist can set the ultrasound to pulse.

Instead of generating a heating effect, this gets your blood pumping to reduce pain.

Reduced Swelling and Inflammation

The heating and relaxing benefits help alleviate muscle pain, while the increased flow to the affected area means more lymph passes through. Lymph is a clear fluid that transports white blood cells throughout our body, which fights infection, promotes healing, and removes excess fluid. When combined, these three factors make it an effective way to treat swelling and inflammation of the muscles, joint pain, and swollen ligaments. Some of the most commonly treated issues include tendonitis, not-acute joint swelling, and chronic inflammation.

Reduces Pain

Ultrasound treatment helps to relieve pain experienced by a patient. The treatment promotes the healing of the problem causing the pain and reduces muscle spasms. In many cases, pain sensations are caused by muscle tightness and spasms.

Encourages the Healing Process

Ultrasound waves provide deep heating into the tissues and increase circulation and metabolism. This helps to promote tissue repair, loosens the muscles, and increases oxygen and other important substances to encourage tissue regeneration and healing.

Breaks Kidney Stones into Smaller Pieces

Lithotripsy is a noninvasive procedure for treating kidney stones too big to pass through the urinary tract. Lithotripsy breaks down kidney stones by sending shock waves directly to the stone with ultrasound. Shockwave therapy breaks down a large stone into smaller pieces that will pass through the urinary system.

Increases Muscular Flexibility

‌The heat created by ultrasound can also help increase flexibility. Ultrasound warms the tissues of muscles, tendons, and ligaments and allows them to stretch more. This added stretch increases the range of motion of joints and results in more flexibility.

Contraindications of Therapeutic Ultrasound

This list of conditions where ultrasound should not be used should not be considered complete or absolute. If your physical therapist decides to use ultrasound in the treatment of your condition, be sure to discuss with them any concerns that you may have.


Pregnant women cannot undergo ultrasonic therapy on any region of the body. Unlike diagnostic ultrasound, the heat and vibration caused by the technology can lead to fetal birth defects.

Implanted Devices on the Body

Patients with pacemakers are also at risk because the sound waves might alter the implant’s performance. In these instances, the chest area must be avoided. As metal conducts heat, which could damage surrounding soft tissue, ultrasound is contraindicated in regions where metal implants exist.

Do not use it Over the Spine or Eyes

Ultrasound therapy can never be used over the eyes. A lack of sufficient blood circulation combined with the heat generated by the sound waves could lead to damaged retinas or an increased risk of developing cataracts.

Do not use Close to Infected Soft Tissue or Open Wounds

Ultrasound cannot be used in areas of the body containing malignant tissues. Studies suggest that the penetrating heat may increase the chance of cancerous cells breaking free from a mass and circulating to other areas of the body. The same is true in the case of localized tissue or bone infections. The warmth created improves circulation and encourages the spreading of the infection. The side effect of enhanced circulation combined with the heat produced is also dangerous to patients diagnosed with vascular problems. Blood vessel ruptures may occur in people who have weakened vessels.

Book Your Ultrasound Therapy Appointment Today!

Therapeutic ultrasound treatment has become a common practice among physical therapists to reduce muscle pain, fight infection, and promote healing in the body.

Palm Wellness Center provides patients access to the best therapies, including ultrasound therapy, as a complementary treatment for the rehabilitation process.

If you want to take control of your health, give us a call to start your treatments as soon as possible.

Schedule a therapeutic ultrasound appointment with our doctor at Palm Wellness Center at (813) 443-5370 or visit our website at www.palmwellness.center.

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