The Role of Ultrasound in Physical Therapy

The Power of Ultrasound in Physical Therapy: Non-invasive Imaging and Pain Treatment


Ultrasound is a safe and non-invasive imaging technique used to treat pain in the musculoskeletal system. With this powerful form of therapy, clinicians can use sound waves to heat up tissue, break up scar tissue, or reduce inflammation. Ultrasound is losing popularity in physical therapy as it has been shown to be less effective than alternative treatment for conditions.

What is Ultrasound?

Ultrasound, sometimes referred to as high-frequency sound waves, are short pulses of sound energy that are transmitted into the body through a transducer to warm tissue. The sound waves create kinetic energy which is then absorbed by the tissues, resulting in increased circulation and metabolism. This increases the temperature of the tissue providing analgesic and anti-inflammatory effects. Ultrasound is used to reduce muscle spasms, decrease inflammation, and increase range of motion.

The Science Behind Ultrasound

Ultrasound is based on the science of acoustics. The sound waves travel through tissue, bone, and fluid at different speeds and are reflected back to the transducer. This reflection is referred to as an echo which can be used to create a real-time image of the area being treated. Ultrasound works by vibrating tissues in order to break down scar tissue or increase blood flow, allowing the targeted area to receive more nutrients and oxygen.

Benefits and Uses of Ultrasound in Physical Therapy

Ultrasound has been used to break up unhealthy scar tissue, reduce swelling and inflammation, relieve pain, and improve range of motion. The evidence often does not support a difference between ultrasound and just using the machine without it being turned on.

The Ultrasound Procedure

The ultrasound procedure typically consists of applying a gel on the area being treated and then placing the transducer head onto that spot. The sound waves are transmitted through the skin and into the target tissues, increasing circulation and metabolism in the area. The duration of the treatment depends on the condition being treated and can last anywhere from 1 to 15 minutes.

Risks and Side Effects

Ultrasound is generally considered safe and has few risks or side effects. It may cause slight discomfort during treatment, as well as some redness or swelling at the site of application afterward. There is also a risk for burns as with every other modality that uses heat.

Comparisons with Other Techniques

Ultrasound can be used in combination with other treatments such as manual therapy or electrical stimulation to enhance the effects. It is important to note that ultrasound should not be used instead of other treatments, but rather as an adjunct.


Ultrasound can be a useful tool for physical therapists when used correctly and as part of an overall treatment plan. It is important to talk to your physical therapist about any concerns or questions prior to beginning treatment with ultrasound.