When most people think of ultrasound as it applies to medicine, they think of the diagnostic sonograms used by physicians to visualize fetuses, internal organs and other internal systems and structures, allowing them to check for abnormalities in a non-invasive way. However, ultrasound is also applied as a type of passive therapy to reduce back pain and promote healing.
Ultrasound therapy has been in use for close to 50 years. Some report that it can be an effective way to relieve back pain caused by osteoarthritis, herniated discs, pinched nerves and other degenerative spine conditions. Ultrasound therapy is usually used in conjunction with other passive therapies, such as heat or ice packs and electrotherapy.
How ultrasound therapy works
Ultrasound therapy is nonsurgical, non-invasive and can be repeated several times a day. Ultrasound is administered through a small wand that is applied to the skin above the injury. As the sonic waves pass from the wand into the skin, they vibrate through the soft tissues. The vibrations cause an increase in heat within the tissue, which increases blood flow and reduces pain. The heat produced can also relax tight muscles and improve the ability of soft tissues to stretch. This can be especially helpful for compressive pain disorders like sciatica and herniated discs, where the pain is the result of pressure placed on spinal structures and nerves. Ultrasound may also serve to increase the spine’s range of motion.
Some reports suggest that ultrasound may also cause the body to produce more collagen. Collagen is the main protein that makes up the body’s ligaments and tendons. Some researchers believe that, in helping the body to produce more collagen, ultrasound therapy may accelerate healing of soft tissues.
When should ultrasound therapy be avoided
Because ultrasound therapy increases blood flow, it should be avoided immediately following an injury. Also, the increased blood flow can possibly spread already-present diseases faster than normal throughout the body.
Ultrasound therapy is contraindicated when the patient:
- Has cancer or if cancer is suspected
- Has an infection
- Has a bone fracture or suspected bone fracture
- Is pregnant
Ultrasound therapy should also never be used near the eyes or the sex organs. It should be used very carefully with children, so as not to affect growth plates.
Consult your physician to find out if ultrasound therapy, massage therapy, or other passive treatments might work for you. If you find conservative treatments to be ineffective in controlling your neck or back pain, contact Laser Spine Institute for information on our minimally invasive procedures that may help you recover your health without traditional open spinal surgery.