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What is Phonophoresis?

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  • Written By: Tricia Ellis-Christensen
  • Edited By: O. Wallace
  • Last Modified Date: 21 August 2016
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Most times when people experience an ultrasound, echocardiogram or sonogram, they can expect to have a Doppler applied over part of the body. The Doppler glides on the skin via a gel substance, that might be a little cold or sticky but otherwise is not unpleasant, and this gel helps the Doppler conduct sound waves into the deeper layers of the body, either for visualization of a body area or as some form of therapy. One interesting application of ultrasound is called phonophoresis where therapy rather than visualization is the goal, and where topical medicines are used.

A topical medicine can be any form of medication placed on the skin and absorbed through it. Some believe that this absorption is greatly improved during the process of phonophoresis. Instead of just using the typical ultrasound gel, topical medicine is mixed with it. A Doppler glides over gel and medicine in what is hoped will result in greater absorption.

There are several different medical conditions for which phonophoresis might be recommended. Many of these involve soreness in muscles or sometimes connective tissues like tendons. While placing anti-swelling agents such as hydrocortisone on the skin by hand might provide some relief, some medical practitioners feel the application of ultrasound simultaneously helps this medicine get to underlying structures and be more effective.

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The medications chosen for phonophoretic delivery are typically available over the counter. Varying types could include things like hydrocortisone, or also weak strength pain relief medicines. Typically, people might be offered this procedure in the context of either physical therapy or chiropractic care. It is not used that often in other contexts, though this can vary.

Conditions for which phonophoresis may be recommended include those that can cause chronic pain like carpal tunnel syndrome or other repetitive motion injuries. Inflammation of the shoulder or hip, especially as caused by conditions like bursitis, could be indications to use this procedure. There could be other suggestions for use, based on individual practitioner preference.

While there is some evidence that phonophoresis is useful in reducing discomfort, the medical community is by no means decided on the benefit of this procedure. Some recommend it, and others feel that studies on its efficacy suggest it does not work often enough to be conclusively considered an effective treatment. Obviously, this can change as the body of work grows on legitimate clinical studies, but there presently remains some doubt as to how well this procedure works.

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