Therapeutic ultrasound is a common tool used in human physical therapy clinics to create a deep heat within tissues, increase the rate of healing, decrease pain, and decrease inflammation (when used in a pulsed mode). Therapeutic ultrasound is not to be confused with diagnostic ultrasound. While both utilize sound waves, therapeutic ultrasound emits adifferent wavelength of sound compared to diagnostic ultrasound and does not produce any images of the inside of the body.
Therapeutic ultrasound works by two mechanisms: thermal effects and non-thermal effects.
Thermal Effects: Therapeutic ultrasound creates a deep heat within tissues. This is highly effective for improving the flexibility of tissues and is often used to treat muscle spasms and contractures. Ultrasound is also very effective for preparing tissues prior to manual therapy techniques. These thermal effects occur deep within the tissues and typically the patient experiences a comfortable warming sensation.
Non-Thermal Effects: Therapeutic ultrasound also works by a process referred to as “cavitation”. Cavitation is the creation of microscopic gas bubbles that are rapidly expanding and contracting within tissues. Cavitation is effective for speeding cellular processes, facilitating healing, and increasing blood flow.
Conditions that therapeutic ultrasound has been shown to be effective in treating:
- Muscle contractures
- Scar tissue formation
- Muscle/trigger point dysfunction
- Tendon and ligament injuries
Effects of therapeutic ultrasound:
- Breaks down scar tissue
- Improves tissue extensibility
- Improves circulation
- Decreases pain
- Creates a deep heat to relieve muscle spasms and pain
- Increases healing rates