At Summit Physiotherapy, we work closely with our clients to create treatment plans specific to their individual needs. We use an integrative approach to healing so we can work on long-term goals that will get the results you want in a way that is manageable for you. Ultrasound therapy is a popular choice for treatment, but we have found that it is often misunderstood. For this month’s blog post, we’ve put together some information about how ultrasound therapy works to help you understand its usefulness and limitations.
Therapeutic ultrasound used in physiotherapy helps reduce inflammation in an injured area and breaks down scar tissue. A five minute treatment of ultrasound in the affected area increases blood flow and increases the temperature in the area, which helps with healing and makes the area more responsive to manual therapy. If the injury is still in the early stages of healing, longer intervals of ultrasound may be used. For best results, we have found that ultrasound works best as a supplementary technique to other treatments such as myofascial release, intramuscular stimulation, acupuncture, and joint mobilizations, to name a few.
There are specific situations where ultrasound can be effective on its own. If you have an acute injury and it is too soon to start stretching, strengthening, or massaging the injured tissue, ultrasound is a proactive treatment on its own. It is important to let the area heal in the initial stages, which is why we do not use manual therapy directly on the affected area until it is ready. Interfering in the healing process with aggressive techniques too early can have negative effects on your rehabilitation. During the first few days when the area is too sensitive for some other treatments, ice and ultrasound are good options. Because ultrasound is a conservative treatment, it won’t cause harm. Besides ultrasound, there are other treatment techniques that can be used immediately after the injury, such as manual therapy performed away from the injured area, TENS, and acupuncture.
Inflammation occurs after an injury and is a crucial part of the initial healing process because it increases the body’s immune system response and initiates cells that promote tissue regeneration. Inflammation initiates tissue repair by bringing chemical compounds that increase circulation, which helps remove cells damaged by the injury and supplies nutrients and oxygen to the damaged tissue. We use ultrasound to help the body’s natural processes by increasing blood flow to the area. Swelling, which is a result of inflammation restricts blood flow and causes joints to stiffen, so it’s important to reduce the inflammation as soon as possible.
Surgery and some injuries also result in scar tissue, which can restrict joint movement and cause further pain. Ultrasound is useful in reducing scar tissue because it creates extremely high frequency sound waves that vibrate the fibres of the scar tissue, which breaks them down into smaller fragments. Depending on the amount of scar tissue, it usually takes several treatments, along with the help of other therapies, to break up the scar tissue. To help increase flexibility, ultrasound can be used to encourage muscles, tendons, and ligaments to stretch more, as it warms these tissues and increases the joint’s range of motion.
Ultrasound used in physiotherapy is different from the ultrasound used for other medical purposes. Medical or diagnostic ultrasound is used to generate images of the internal structure of the body. It uses a sensor (transducer) to pick up the high frequency sound waves as they bounce off the area where the ultrasound is applied. Once the waves are returned, they are measured for the time it takes for the sound waves to return, and this information is inputted to a computer, where an image is formed. Ultrasound used in physiotherapy does not have a sensor to pick up the waves after they’ve been sent into the body, so this type of ultrasound does not produce an image.
Ultrasound can be a useful part of a comprehensive treatment plan that helps you recover from injuries. You want your body back at its optimal performance level, and we want to help get you there. If you’re injured, book an appointment with one of our skilled physiotherapists to get started on the best treatment plan for your recovery.