Diagnostic ultrasound has been used by radiologists, sonographers, and other medical professionals for more than half a century. However, in recent years its use has expanded and is now used frequently by physiotherapists as a form of treatment – known as ultrasound therapy.
How ultrasound therapy works
Ultrasound therapy is a popular form of treatment in physio as it is generally painless, has no known side effects and is non-invasive. Ultrasound therapy works by sending low-frequency sound waves into a specific area in the body via a probe or transducer.
There are actually two ways in which ultrasound therapy is used in physio – these are known as thermal and mechanical.
Thermal – Thermal ultrasound therapy uses sound waves to create small vibrations which gently heat up the tissue molecules.
Mechanical – Mechanical ultrasound therapy uses a continual stream of vibrational sound waves to penetrate the tissue. This process causes the expansion and contraction in the tiny gas bubbles in the soft tissue (known as cavitation) which decreases the body’s inflammatory response.
Ultrasound therapy is used by physiotherapists in a number of ways, including:
To reduce inflammation
As ultrasound therapy decreases the body’s inflammatory response, it can help to reduce swelling around muscles, joints, and ligaments caused by injury or arthritis.
To reduce pain
Ultrasound therapy causes the tissue to vibrate, which gently raises the temperature of the tissue, easing pain. While ultrasound therapy is not guaranteed to be an effective treatment for all chronic pain conditions, it is known to help reduce pain associated with tissue injuries, arthritis, and muscle strains.
To promote tissue healing
The heat from ultrasound therapy induces vasodilation which draws blood to the affected area. This increased blood flow delivers much-needed oxygen and nutrients which contribute to the healing process.
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