Ultrasound Therapy: What is it?


I’ve seen ads for ultrasound therapy all over the internet; things that say “Ultrasound therapy reduces pain” or “ultrasound therapy for home pain management.” What does that mean? When I think of the word “ultrasound” I usually think of pregnancy or muscles… is this related at all? Well, I’m not an expert by any means, nor am I the brightest light bulb in the tanning bed, so I thought I would ask around. Surprise: the people I asked didn’t know either! Since this is such a mystery, I turned to the wise and all-knowing internet to compile the ultrasound basics.

What is Ultrasound?

The human ear can hear sounds that range between 16Hz to 20,000 Hz (depending on the age of a person). Beyond this upper limit, sound wave are called “ultrasonic” or “ultrasound.” They cannot be heard by the human ear, but they can be felt. Sound waves are longitudinal waves, which work kind of like a slinky. If you hold a slinky by one end and push a “wave” through to the other end, the slinky will stretch out (rarefaction) and compress in a series.

These waves run through the slinky, losing energy the farther down they go because the energy is being absorbed by other materials. This is the way an ultrasonic wave works too. When you put an ultrasound head (applicator) to your skin, the machine creates these waves that penetrate deep into your tissues. As the ultrasonic waves hit your tissues, they make your molecules start to oscillate, something similar to vibrating. This oscillation creates heat in the tissue and that heat is what reduces pain in your joints or muscles.

What is Ultrasound Therapy used for?

Ultrasound therapy can be used to reduce chronic pain in an area, break up adhesions and scar tissue, create heat to ease muscle spasms, speed metabolism and healing, and increase blood flow. Ultrasound is different than other treatments because it penetrates deeper into tissue than simple massages or similar physical therapy techniques. Take a look at this diagram:

As you can see, ultrasonic waves travel much farther into your skin, therefore reaching the source of pain and aches rather than just warming the surface layers.

Ultrasound treatments can be “pulsed” or “non-pulsed.” When a treatment is “non-pulsed” or continuous, then there is a buildup of heat in the tissue that is being treated. This is an excellent way to treat chronic pain symptoms. One of the things to be aware of when using a continuous ultrasound therapy treatment is that the ultrasound applicator head must be constantly moving so that the tissue doesn’t get damaged. Ultrasonic waves make your molecules move at lightning quick speed, which creates a lot of friction and a lot of heat. In pulsed therapies, the ultrasound machine only emits ultrasound waves at specific intervals in order to avoid overheating of the tissue. This is especially good to facilitate blood flow and tissue reparation. Both pulsed and continuous ultrasound therapy techniques have benefits, but it’s good to know the difference so that you know what will work best for your specific injury.

Is Ultrasound Therapy a type of electrotherapy?

It seems like if you are using a machine to ease your pain, then it would automatically be considered “electrotherapy.” This is not the case with ultrasound therapy. Ultrasound therapy is mechanical energy that treats injuries by using sound waves and NOT electric currents. Sometimes physical therapists categorize ultrasound therapy with electrotherapy because it does bring similar benefits, but electricity is not used on your skin during ultrasound treatments. When you use an ultrasound therapy machine, you see that the applicator has a metal plate that touches your skin. This is called the ultrasound head. Behind that piece of metal, there is a crystal that is the source of ultrasonic waves.

How it works:
1. You specify your treatment on the ultrasound machine.

2. The machine sends signals to the ultrasound head by way of an electric current.

3. The electric current reaches the crystal, which transforms the electricity into sound waves.

4. Those sound waves reverberate through the metal plate on the head, which is against your skin.

5. The sound waves continue to penetrate deep into your tissues, providing the desired therapeutic benefits.

Ultrasound therapy is much more than just moving an applicator over your skin. It is a non-invasive process by which you can experience the benefits of pain relief and faster healing. The field of ultrasound therapy is still expanding and there may be more uses in the future, but for now it is a great way to ease your pain! Our medical knowledge will continue to grow as we explore and learn more about the way things work. Ultrasound therapy is just one example of the discoveries that have improved our way of life.

Buying an Ultrasound Therapy Machine for Personal Use

Modern technology makes these machines much more affordable and accessible for home use. There are several places online to purchase an affordable machine.

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