What Is Therapeutic Ultrasound?

Therapeutic ultrasound is a non-invasive procedure that uses low-power ultrasound waves to create vibrations and/or raise the temperature of body tissue in a targeted area, providing pain relief and loosening tight muscles. The procedure can also break up scar tissue and improve circulation of blood and lymph to promote healing of the affected area.

It’s typically used to treat chronic pain and minor orthopedic injuries.
Therapeutic ultrasound is usually performed by a licensed physician on an outpatient basis, but hospitals may also use this technique during inpatient stays to help patients recovering from orthopedic injuries or conditions.

How Does Therapeutic Ultrasound Work?

Ultrasound waves are produced when an electrical charge is applied to the small crystal that sits inside the ultrasound machine. These waves travel through the ultrasound head — or transducer — and are delivered to the injured soft tissue during treatment, increasing blood flow and oxygen delivery and producing therapeutic benefits.

Before treatment, the physician chooses a section of skin near the injury site or where the pain originates, making sure there are no lesions or open wounds. The practitioner applies gel, sometimes mixed with a topical anti-inflammatory medication, to the targeted area and/or to the ultrasound’s transducer head. The physician then glides the transducer over the targeted section of skin using circular motions.

During treatment, the practitioner may change the settings on the ultrasound machine to adjust the intensity or depth of penetration, depending on the injury’s current state of healing and how deep the damaged tissue is located. Patients remain awake throughout the treatment and usually feel nothing except the movement of the transducer. Some individuals may experience tingling, warmth in the area or a slight pulsing sensation, but the treatment is generally painless.

Therapeutic Ultrasound can be used in the management of the following conditions and injuries:

  • Bursitis
  • Arthritis
  • Tendinitis
  • Muscle tears
  • Ligament injuries
  • Frozen shoulder
  • Phantom limb pain
  • Sprains and strains
  • Joint contracture
  • Rotator cuff tears
  • Meniscus tears
  • Carpal tunnel syndrome
  • Chronic neck or low back pain
  • Other soft-tissue injuries