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Therapeutic Ultrasound

What is Ultrasound?

Ultrasound is a therapeutic modality that has been used by Physical Therapists since the 1940s. Ultrasound equipment generates high frequency sound waves that are transferred to a specific body area via a round-headed probe.  

How is treatment administered?

The Physical Therapist usually applies a hypo allergic gel to the skin, which creates a friction free surface. Using gentle, circular motions with the probe, the therapist administers the treatment, which lasts several minutes. The sound waves produced by the ultrasound are generated by a piezoelectric effect caused by the vibration of crystals within the head of the wand/probe. The sound waves that pass through the skin cause a vibration of the local tissues. This vibration can cause a deep heating locally, though usually no sensation of heat will be felt by the patient. In situations where a heating effect is not desirable, such as a new injury with acute inflammation, the ultrasound can be pulsed rather than continuously transmitted.  A very efficient way to administer ultrasound to body parts with irregular contours (ie foot) the body part is placed in a basin of water.  The sound waves can travel through water to the body part.   

Ultrasound can also be used in Phonophoresis. This is a non-invasive way of administering a topical anti-inflammatory medication. The anti-inflammatory medication can be mixed with the ultrasound gel and applied to the area using the probe. The ultrasonic sound waves force the medication to migrate into the tissues reducing inflammation.  Cortisone, used to reduce inflammation, is one of the more commonly used substances delivered in this way.

Does the treatment hurt?

No. You may feel a tingling sensation in the treated area or often nothing at all.

How do I benefit from ultrasound?

As the probe glides over the skin's surface, sound waves penetrate the skin's surface causing soft tissues to vibrate.  A continuous mode is used to create deep heat in the tissues. In turn, the heat induces vasodilation: drawing blood into the target tissues. Increased blood flow delivers needed oxygen and nutrients, and removes cell wastes.  The deep heat helps to relieve pain, inflammation, reduces muscle spasms, and accelerates healing. If the area has an acute injury or severe inflammation a pulsed mode can be used to limit the amount of heat that is generated.  Instead the primary effect is tissue vibration creating a reduction in edema and pain.


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