Therapeutic Ultrasound: A Strategy For Both Conventional And Alternative Practitioners


Your chiropractor mentioned that you'll receive ultrasound therapy at your next appointment. You have to admit you're skeptical about what this particular strategy entails, even though you've experienced positive results with your chiropractic adjustments so far. There's no reason to be skeptical about how a diagnostic imaging technique can be effective for pain relief and healing. Ultrasound therapy is used by other health care practitioners as well, including physical therapists and massage therapists.

About Therapeutic Ultrasound

You're probably familiar with ultrasound diagnostic imaging, even if you've never had this technique performed on yourself or someone close to you. 

For imaging, a technologist uses ultrasound equipment to send sound waves into tissues, which then bounce off internal structures and create echoes. The equipment translates those echoes into images that the doctor can view. Most people are most familiar with this type of imaging for pregnant women, as ultrasound allows these patients and their doctors to see the unborn baby. 

Chiropractors and other practitioners use a more intense form of ultrasound for healing purposes. The sound waves produce gentle heat because of vibration. The method allows your chiropractor to generate beneficial heat inside your tissues that otherwise can't be reached. 

Think of how heat application is often recommended as a technique for reducing pain and helping the body heal. For example, people rely on electric heating pads, warm baths and foot soaks to help their aching muscles and joints feel better. Deep-heat ultrasound brings that therapy directly to the source of pain.

Why Deep-Heat Therapy Works

Deep-heat ultrasound therapy has similar benefits as heat applied topically. It:

  • boosts circulation to the affected area, which:
    • brings extra oxygen and beneficial nutrients there
    • facilitates the transport of cellular waste to organs in the body that remove it
  • reduces inflammation
  • decreases stiffness
  • relaxes muscles that are very tight, making chiropractic manipulation difficult
  • improves the ability of muscles, ligaments and other tissues to stretch, which increases flexibility and range of motion

Another benefit involves sending topical medication into the body to decrease inflammation. Skin absorbs topical mediation to a certain extent, but ultrasound waves are more effective at bringing this medication to a specific area. This is also an alternative strategy for providing medicine that is normally delivered by injection, such as corticosteroids that are helpful for relieving inflammation. 

Relevant Research

Research is still scant on the effectiveness of therapeutic ultrasound. Practitioners generally continue providing the therapy if they've found it to be effective with their own patients.

For example, the results of a survey of physical therapists that appeared in 2007 found a high percentage of these professionals using ultrasound therapy in their practice.

Nearly 84 percent used the method for relieving inflammation in the soft tissues, such as in tendinitis and in the fluid-filled sacs around the joints, known as bursitis. A majority also used it for increasing the ability of tissue to stretch and to speed healing. About half applied this strategy as a pain reduction method. 

A Possible Added Benefit

In addition to the deep-heat effects, it's possible that therapeutic ultrasound can enhance healing due to an effect known as cavitation. This non-thermal effect involves the rapid expansion and contraction of microscopic gas bubbles around the tissue cells.

At this point, the benefits of cavitation are only theoretical, but you might ask your chiropractor to let you know about any research he or she encounters in the future that supports this idea.      

Concluding Thoughts

You can have peace of mind that your chiropractor is using effective strategies to relieve your pain and speed your healing. Conventional medical practitioners such as physical therapists, as well as more alternative practitioners, provide therapeutic ultrasound for their patients. Go to your next appointment with the confidence that you're progressing on your path to healing and pain relief. 


18 February 2015

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