Ultrasound is a common physical therapy treatment that is thought to speed healing by providing heat to injured tissues. This heat helps to decrease pain, improve cellular healing, and improve how stretchy your injured body part is to help increase range of motion and flexibility.
There is some current debate in physical therapy about whether ultrasound really works to help improve healing. If you receive ultrasound as a treatment from your physical therapist, you should understand that some studies indicate that ultrasound does not improve outcomes for various conditions. Ultrasound should not be the only treatment that you receive for your condition.
There are some situations where ultrasound should not be used at all. If you are receiving ultrasound, you should speak with your physical therapist to understand why it is being used and be sure to speak up if you feel that it should not be used for your condition.
Common Situations Where Ultrasound Should Not Be Used
- Cancer. Since ultrasound may increase cellular activity, it should not be used over cancerous areas of the body as this is thought to increase chances of metastasis.
- In children. Ultrasound over bone that has not fully developed may cause fractures or other problems with the part of the bones that are responsible for growth.
- During pregnancy. The effect of therapeutic ultrasound on a developing human fetus has not been fully explored and therefore should be avoided during pregnancy.
- Near the eyes. Damage to the retina or lens may result if ultrasound is used near the eyes.
- Areas around the heart. It is suggested that ultrasound may alter the electrical signals around your heart. If you have a pacemaker, ultrasound may interfere with its normal function.
- Over reproductive organs. The effect of ultrasound used over reproductive organs like the testes or ovaries is not fully explored and therefore should be avoided.
- In areas with decreased temperature sensation. If your injury prevents you from feeling normal hot and cold temperatures, ultrasound should not be used since you would not be able to report any discomfort or burning sensations to your physical therapist.
- Over body parts with total joint replacements. Many total joint replacements use special cement to hold the new joint in place, and ultrasound may rapidly heat this cement and damage surrounding body parts.
- In people with vascular problems. If you have problems with circulation, ultrasound may not be a good choice for you because it is felt that decreased circulation limits your body’s ability to help manage increased heat that occurs with ultrasound.
This list of situations where ultrasound should not be used should not be considered complete or absolute. If your physical therapist decides to use ultrasound in the treatment of your condition, be sure to discuss with him or her any concerns that you may have.
Remember that a positive physical therapy experience usually involves active patient involvement, and ultrasound should not be the only treatment you receive in physical therapy. Your physical therapist should teach you about your specific condition and ensure that you have a strategy to help improve your condition independently.
Prentice, W. (1998) Therapeutic modalities for allied health professionals. New York: Mcgraw-Hill.