What Is a Musculoskeletal Ultrasound?

Sandra Koehler

Musculoskeletal pain is when the muscles or their supporting structures, including the tendons and ligaments that connect muscles and bones, cause discomfort. This can occur when these areas become injured, damaged, strained or irritated. Musculoskeletal ultrasound is a non-invasive medical modality used to help manage and decrease pain issues.

Before an ultrasound, a small layer of conductive gel is applied to make the images clearer.
Before an ultrasound, a small layer of conductive gel is applied to make the images clearer.

Typically, muscles can experience pain when there is some sort of injury, such as a fall, a dislocation of a bone, or a blow to the area. However, pain in the muscles can occur even from the simplest activities due to poor alignment of the body, incorrect body mechanics, overuse, or weak muscles. Pain issues in the muscles can be acute, occurring as a direct result from a trauma and resolving quickly. When the discomfort becomes long-lasting it is considered chronic in nature. The use of a musculoskeletal ultrasound can be an effective tool to manage both types of muscle pain.

Basically, a musculoskeletal ultrasound is a machine with a handled sound head. The sound head is covered in a conductive gel and applied to the area experiencing pain in a continual circular pattern. Through the use of sound waves bouncing from the unit to the muscles, ultrasound generates heat. This heat penetrates deeper into the muscles than the traditional heating pack, which only heats up the superficial layers of the skin and muscles.

When a muscle is irritated, small knotted areas called trigger points can occur along with a general shortening of the muscle fibers. The heat generated by a musculoskeletal ultrasound has the ability to relax the tension in the muscles causing pain. It also increases blood flow to the area to promote healing. Since this device loosens muscle spasms and tightness, it can also be used in the physical rehabilitation process after an injury.

After a musculoskeletal ultrasound treatment is given, the muscles loosen up and are more responsive to stretching. By performing a stretching program directly after an ultrasound, shortened irritated muscles tend to let go of some of their tension. After time, relaxing the muscles prior to stretching gives muscles the ability to regain their normal length and functioning.

A musculoskeletal ultrasound can also be used in a treatment called phonophoresis. This is where a topical anti-inflammatory medication is applied to the sound head along with the conductive gel. This technique delivers the medication more thoroughly which can aid in the decrease of pain symptoms and inflammation reducing normal muscle range of motion and pain-free movement.

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