Therapeutic ultrasound is a treatment modality commonly used in physical therapy. It provides deep heating to soft tissues in the body. These include muscles, tendons, joints and ligaments. Ultrasound in physical therapy should not be confused with diagnostic ultrasound, which is ultrasound that is used to see the inside of the body, such as checking on a fetus during pregnancy.
What Does Ultrasound Do?
Ultrasound is often used to provide deep heating to soft tissue structures in the body. Deep heating tendons, muscles or ligaments increases circulation to those tissues, which can help the healing process. Increasing tissue temperature with ultrasound is also used to help decrease pain.
Deep heating can be used to increase the “stretchiness” of muscles and tendons that may be tight. If you have shoulder pain and have been diagnosed with a frozen shoulder, your physical therapist may use ultrasound to help improve the extensibility of the tissues around your shoulder prior to performing range of motion exercises. This may help improve the ability of your shoulder to stretch.
Ultrasound introduces energy into the body. This energy causes microscopic gas bubbles around your tissues to expand and contract rapidly, a process called cavitation. It is believed that the expansion and contraction of these bubbles help speed cellular processes and improve healing of injured tissue.
How Is Ultrasound Applied?
Ultrasound is performed with machine that has an ultrasound transducer (a sound head). A small amount of gel is applied to the body part being treated; then your physical therapist slowly moves the sound head in a small circular direction on your body. The therapist may change various settings on the ultrasound unit to control the depth of penetration of the ultrasound waves or change the intensity of the ultrasound. Different settings are used in various stages of healing.
How does the Ultrasound Treatment Feel?
While you are receiving an ultrasound treatment, you will most likely not feel anything happening, except perhaps a slight warming sensation or tingling around the area being treated.
Common Injuries Treated with Ultrasound
- Frozen shoulder
- Joint contracture or tightness
- Muscle strains and tears
- Sprains and ligament injuries