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What Are the Uses of Ultrasound for Pain Management?

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  • Written By: R. Bargar
  • Edited By: Jessica Seminara
  • Last Modified Date: 21 November 2016
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Ultrasound for pain management is used for both diagnostic and therapeutic purposes. As a diagnostic tool, ultrasound technology assists health care professionals in imaging the soft and bony musculoskeletal tissues that are the source of the pain. Ultrasound is also used as an imaging tool during medical procedures to guide the treatment of the painful tissues. Along with its diagnostic applications, this technology is increasingly used therapeutically to manage chronic pain conditions. Doctors, physical therapists and occupational therapists provide ultrasound for pain management therapies.

The therapeutic use of ultrasound for pain management utilizes sound waves generated by the equipment to treat injuries and conditions of the joints, ligaments, muscles and other tissues of the musculoskeletal system. This use of ultrasound differs from diagnostic procedures in that sound waves travel only to the site of pain, rather than bouncing back to produce an image. One technique of ultrasound for pain management uses continuous sound waves to deliver deep tissue heating. The sound waves cause small increases in the movement of the molecules of the cells, generating warmth deep within the joints or muscles. This warmth acts to reduce swelling while increasing circulation and metabolic activities within the tissues, helping with healing and pain reduction.

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A second method that uses ultrasound for pain management sends pulses of sound waves into the painful tissues. In addition to a very mild heating effect, this provides a mechanical action on a microscopic level. Tiny gas bubbles within the tissues expand and contract from the energy generated by the sound waves. This action is thought to increase circulation and decrease inflammation. Healing of the tissues is promoted, although the exact method of action is not fully understood.

Ultrasound for pain management is administered with an ultrasound machine and small transducer head that sends the sound waves. A gel is placed on the transducer and skin to enhance the effectiveness of the waves. The transducer is rotated on the skin above the painful region, sending waves deep into the joints or muscles. Constant motion of the transducer is maintained throughout the session to prevent burns. Pain should be reduced after several treatments, but all patients respond differently to the use of ultrasound for pain management.

After the treatments, other pain reliving methods are frequently used. Massage and joint manipulation are sometimes administered. These treatments help increase the mobility of the joints and muscles, further reducing pain. Ultrasound has been successfully used with a wide variety of both chronic and acute musculoskeletal pain. Studies have shown its effectiveness for carpal tunnel syndrome, back pain, muscle spasms and other painful conditions effecting the muscles and joints.

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