Benefits and Risks of Therapeutic Ultrasound


What is a Therapeutic Ultrasound?

When most people think of an ultrasound, they envision a doppler type of scan used to monitor pregnancies and to diagnose medical issues; however, an ultrasound can also be used for medical treatment. Therapeutic ultrasound, or ultrasound therapy, is a non-invasive, medication-free procedure that has been used to treat various chronic pain conditions since the 1940s. It is typically performed by a trained physical therapist in an outpatient setting; it is also used in hospitals for certain injuries and conditions during the recovery process.

Two types of therapeutic ultrasound are available: thermal (deep heating) and mechanical (cavitation). Thermal therapeutic ultrasound increases blood circulation and, in theory, promotes healing and decreases pain. Mechanical therapeutic ultrasound causes rapid expansion and contraction of tiny gas bubbles surrounding an injury, which, in theory, speeds up the healing process.

Potential Benefits

Potential benefits of therapeutic ultrasound include the following:

  • Pain may be reduced.
  • Swelling and inflammation is reduced, promoting healing.
  • Deep warming of tissues encourages the healing process.
  • Kidney stones can be broken into smaller pieces.
  • Muscular flexibility may increase.
  • Blood circulation may improve.
  • This procedure is typically pain-free and rarely requires the use of anesthetics or pain-relievers.
  • It is a simple and non-invasive procedure.

Potential Risks

Potential risks of therapeutic ultrasound include the following:

  • Superficial burns to the skin may occur if used for long periods. This can be avoided by the continual movement of the ultrasound wand.
  • Mechanical therapeutic ultrasounds may potentially cause internal bleeding or scarring, depending on the duration of exposure.
  • Although unlikely, a “microplosion” can occur as a result of cavitation therapeutic ultrasounds, which may damage cellular activity.

Although generally considered a safe treatment, therapeutic ultrasound is not recommended for the following:

  • Damage to the fetus can occur in pregnant women.
  • Avoid near implanted devices, such as pacemakers or spinal cord stimulator.
  • Do not use it over the spine or eyes.
  • Avoid use close to infected tissue or open wounds.