Ultrasound therapy is used by physical and occupational therapists to treat pain and promote healing. The use of ultrasonic waves, or sound waves of a high frequency, as a treatment involves the application of these sound waves to penetrate soft tissues, resulting in a warming effect that promotes healing by increasing metabolism, as well as stimulation of subdermal tissue in the targeted area. The frequencies of sound waves used range from 800,000 Hertz to 2,000,000 Hertz. This is a range of sound that humans cannot hear.
Ultrasound therapy is used in the treatment of such conditions as osteoarthritis, rheumatoid arthritis, tendonitis, Plantar fasciitis, bursitis, carpal tunnel syndrome, sprains, and strains. Treatment involves passing an ultrasound device that emits a beam of sound waves through a gel medium applied directly to the skin of the treatment site. The gel reduces friction between the device and the skin, and increases transmission of the sound waves.
The benefits of ultrasound treatment are many. The purpose of ultrasound treatments is to stimulate and increase metabolism at the treatment site. This metabolic increase accelerates the healing process by improving blood flow. This increased metabolism enhances activity at the cellular level, thus aiding in the healing of soft tissue injuries, such as sprains and strains.
The increase in metabolic activity also reduces swelling and the accumulation of fluid in joints and tissues, known as edema, in the treatment area. This reduction in swelling also decreases pain and muscle spasms from the condition or injury.
As the sound waves pass through soft tissue, they gently massage the muscles, ligaments and tendons. This also softens scar tissue by increasing the production of collagen. Collagen is the main structural component in connective tissues, including tendons, ligaments, cartilage, muscle tissue and skin. Increased production of collagen also reduces the time it takes to heal from soft tissue injuries.
High-power ultrasound treatments have additional benefits. They can be used to break up mineral deposits in soft tissue, such as kidney or gallstones, into fragments small enough to be easily passed without the need for surgical intervention. They can also be used to increase the effectiveness of drugs in the treatment area, as in the delivery of chemotherapy drugs to targeted areas of the brain, or other drugs to soft tissues.
Additional physiological effects of ultrasound treatments include stimulation of bone growth. Ultrasound guided sclerotherapy is used to treat varicose veins. Transcranial ultrasound is being tested as an aid in the treatment for strokes.
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