What Is the Role of Ultrasound in Physiotherapy?

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  • Written By: Wanda Marie Thibodeaux
  • Edited By: O. Wallace
  • Last Modified Date: 18 September 2019
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The use of ultrasound in physiotherapy lets physiotherapists take both preventative and reactive approaches to client treatment. Ultrasound is a medical technique that uses high-frequency sound waves. These waves allow professionals not only to see tissues beneath the skin in a noninvasive way, but also to provide relief from limiting or painful physical conditions.

As a preventative treatment, ultrasound in physiotherapy enables technicians to gain images of tissues within the human body. These images can show how the tissues are functioning and aligning, such as when a muscle contracts and relaxes. The technician thus is able to assess how those functions and alignments might impact a physical regimen or what therapies may prove most effective.

Once physiotherapy begins, ultrasound images are an important source of biofeedback. They can show a patient visually in real time what happens when he performs an exercise correctly. The patient can use these visual confirmations of what is physically happening to modify his exercise until he performs it properly.

Ultrasound in physiotherapy also has the capacity to create small vibrations in the body tissues. These vibrations are small enough that they are virtually undetectable to the client, but they still provide significant benefits to physiotherapy patients.


On one hand, the vibrations from an ultrasound tool create heat. Although slight, this heat helps increase blood flow to tissues. Physiotherapists sometimes use this trait to warm up the tissues slightly before a physical exercise or treatment. This helps to prevent injury.

The heat created from ultrasound vibration relaxes muscles somewhat. This allows the physiotherapy patient to enjoy a greater range of motion. With this benefit, the patient is able to proceed through exercises with good form and balance. They thus are able to grow stronger and develop properly to heal. The heat also can halt muscle spasms and thereby reduce pain, which often is a primary deterrent to proceeding with treatment.

A major problem in physiotherapy is inflammation, which occurs as the body's natural response to injury. It can increase pain and decrease range of motion. Physiotherapists thus need ways to get inflammation down during treatment.

Ultrasound in physiotherapy requires a technician to move a probe known as a transducer on the skin. To reduce friction between the skin and the transducer, the technician applies a gel to the skin. Physiotherapists can mix topical anti-inflammatory medications in with the gel. The sound waves the ultrasound machine produce are able to move the medication into the deeper tissues beneath the skin, alleviating the swelling problem.

The many applications of ultrasound in physiotherapy mean that physiotherapists need to be familiar not only with the principals behind ultrasound, but also should be prepared to integrate ultrasound into everyday practice. It is a good idea for physiotherapists to receive ultrasound training as part of their education. Establishing a network with reputable ultrasound technicians is also advisable for physiotherapists.



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