Healing Injuries with Sound Waves
by Annette M. Zaharoff, MD
Various types of heat have been found to have useful roles in treating sports injuries. When sports injuries require deep tissue heating, one of the most effective therapies is the use of ultrasound.
Ultrasound works by converting high frequency alternating current into mechanical acoustic vibrations, or sonic waves, that are converted to heat. Ultrasound can penetrate about 7 to 8 cm in fatty tissue where it increases the temperature 4 to 5 degrees centigrade.
Ultrasound is the most effective deep heating modality for rehabilitation of many soft tissue problems. It is helpful in treating conditions like tendonitis, bursitis, tenosynovitis, muscle spasms, and soft tissue trauma.
Applying heat helps the elasticity of collagen in tendons, joint capsules, and scars. Ultrasound is useful to apply to areas to warm them up before stretching. Chronic conditions such adhesive capsulitis and post-surgical scarring also respond to the heat of ultrasound.
When a soft tissue is injured many by products are released by the damaged tissue. Ultrasound can be useful to increase the resorption of these by products and promote healing.
Another use of ultrasound is for the delivery of pharmaceuticals for treating inflammation through phonophoresis. This is a treatment whereby the sound waves are used to drive large molecules of hydrocortisone through the skin into soft tissue to reduce inflammation. Phonophoresis has also been reported to enhance the effects of a hydrocortisone injection and in fact, may be considered an alternate delivery system for patients who fear needles when superficial inflammation is present.
As with any prescription therapy or treatment, the use of ultrasound should only be performed under the supervision of a physician or by a licensed physical therapist. It is most effective and safe when a physician prescribes it for the appropriate reasons and a qualified therapist delivers the treatment for musculoskeletal injuries. If you have specific question, ask you sport medicine physician for more information.
Dr. Annette Zaharoff is a sports medicine physician specializing in the non-surgical evaluation and treatment of injuries. She maintains a private practice in San Antonio and may be reached by calling her office at (210) 616-0646 or visiting her Web site www.drZmd.com