Back pain can be extremely debilitating, and many people will go to great lengths for a way to heal it – but in some cases, that may not be necessary. Although it usually conjures images of pregnancy or internal organ examinations, ultrasound therapy can be used as a gentle, non-invasive method of treatment for some people suffering from back pain.
Ultrasounds work by emitting sonic waves; when used for tests like fetal examinations, they bounce back to create an image for a doctor to examine. But when used for pain management, they send vibrations through the soft tissue of the back. The vibrations gently heat the area, which stimulates blood flow and helps ease pain; if it sounds something like applying a heat pad, you’re not far off: ultrasound therapy is often used alongside other non-invasive treatments such as icing or heating to relax muscles and ease pain. In conditions where the back pain is the result of compression (herniation, etc.), the reduced swelling helps relieve the pressure. Some preliminary studies have also suggested that ultrasounds may encourage the growth of collagen, the protein that forms the backbone of ligaments and tendons, which helps soft tissue heal more quickly.
Some patients with back pain caused by osteoarthritis, pinched nerves, sciatica, fibromyalgia, herniated discs, and other degenerative spinal conditions find relief from ultrasound therapy, finding that it soothes sore muscles and helps relax them, increasing their flexibility.
Benefits of using ultrasound therapy include the non-surgical nature of it, that it pairs well with other therapeutic methods, and that it’s more widely available than some other forms of treatment. It also doesn’t require exposure to radiation. However, it’s not a good option for every case: it shouldn’t be used on children, after a recent injury, or on pregnant women or cancer patients. It also may not be effective for everyone – many people don’t find it a useful treatment for chronic back pain. It’s also not a one-stop solution, and lifestyle changes such as exercise, stretching, a healthy diet, physical therapy, and other medication will still need to be followed as directed by a healthcare provider. Discuss with your doctor whether ultrasound therapy is a good option for your back pain.