Chronic pain is one of the most widely spread medical conditions in the global population, with just over 1.5 billion people suffering from one type of chronic pain or another. Among those surveyed who had chronic pain, some 59% of them reported that the pain impacted the enjoyment of their life one way or another. Any pain that lasts 12 weeks or longer qualifies as chronic pain, but many ways to combat this suffering exists, and one of them is therapeutic ultrasound. Therapeutic ultrasound has the benefit of being noninvasive, and it can be an attractive option for those who have tissue damage, nerve pain, or more. What is ultrasound therapy? How can this treatment make a difference?
The Basics of Therapeutic Ultrasound
According to Very Well Health, therapeutic ultrasound is a type of treatment used for physical therapy, and it can apply deep heating to tissues in the human body. Ligaments, joints, muscles, and tendons are common targets for ultrasound therapy, and by extension, may also soothe pain in the nerves of these tissues. This differs from diagnostic ultrasound, which is instead used for getting images of the body’s interior.
Deep heating with ultrasounds involves warming the targeted tissue, which is believed to alleviate pain somewhat, and the increased heat also boosts blood flow, which is expected to aid the healing process. Tight muscles or tendons may be stretched and relaxed with this treatment, and in the case of frozen shoulder, ultrasound therapy can be used to improve extensibility of the tissues around the shoulder before range of motion exercises are performed.
Meanwhile, non-thermal effects, or cavitation, means that ultrasounds introduces energy to the body, and as a result, microscopic gas bubbles around th4e body’s tissues will rapidly expand and contract. This is called cavitation. It is theorized that such a process can aid the healing process and accelerate cellular processes. Cavitation has the potential to be unstable and therefore risky, but any medical professional applying therapeutic ultrasound will make sure that the cavitation is instead stable. For this reason, getting this ultrasound therapy is recommended only when a medical professional is involved.
Inside the ultrasound device is a small crystal that vibrates rapidly and gives off ultrasound waves that can enter the body. The ultrasound transducer, or sound head, is applied to the desired part of the body (which as a gel on it) and the head is moved around, and ultrasound waves are administered to the body. the ultrasound head’s settings can be adjusted based on the patient’s medical needs. Ever since the 1940s, ultrasound therapy has been a popular choice for those suffering pain, and therapeutic ultrasound has a sound range of 0.8 to 3.0 megahertz. However, even tiny pockets of layers of air between the patient’s skin and the sound head can deflect the ultrasound waves, so professionals are careful to have no air gaps present during the procedure.
Ultrasound therapy, however, is not safe in all situations. For example, it should not be used on open wounds or around the eyes or reproductive organs, nor should it be used near fractured bones or a pacemaker. Pregnant women should avoid this therapy, nor those who have electrical stimulation devices implanted in them.