Most people are familiar with therapeutic ultrasound and have probably come across it at some point in life when seeing a physiotherapist, due to this treatment being popularised among the physiotherapy profession and other health professions as a common treatment for a wide range of soft tissue injuries. It is very important to recognise that therapeutic ultrasound is completely different to diagnostic ultrasound. Therapeutic ultrasound is used to treat pain, whereas diagnostic ultrasound is used to diagnose conditions by visualising the bodily structures on a screen. This page is based on therapeutic ultrasound.
There are a number of reported benefits of therapeutic ultrasound including speeding up of the healing process due to increased blood flow to the injured area, decreased pain due to reduced swelling, and a massage effect of muscles, tendons and/ or ligaments in the treated area because no strain is added and any scar tissue is softened.
Does it Work?
Despite the rather attractive claims of therapeutic ultrasound, unfortunately, there is very limited evidence to demonstrate therapeutic ultrasound is more effective than placebo for treating people with pain in a wide range of musculoskeletal injuries or for promoting soft tissue healing. In fact, when considering the overall findings of clinical studies, there is a good level of evidence to proove quite the opposite, which is that therapeutic ultrasound does not work.
Among the most common treatment options available for plantar fasciitis, therapeutic ultrasound has perhaps the weakest evidence base for its efficacy. At best, it may have a placebo effect meaning that although physiologically it isn't doing anything, patients feel some pain relief after receiving treatment. It is not considered an evidence-based treatment, it certainly isn't cost- effective, and is not a recommended treatment for plantar fasciitis.