Effective Treatment for RA: Ultrasound Therapy
Using Ultrasound to Treat Rheumatoid Arthritis
Patients with rheumatoid arthritis (RA) suffer from symptoms including pain, stiffness, inflammation, and swelling. This can make it difficult to go about daily activities.
Current treatments include over-the-counter pain relievers, immunosuppressants, corticosteroids, and other drugs. These drugs can help ease symptoms and slow down the progression of the disease. They may also bring on side effects.
Researchers continue to look for alternatives, and have found that ultrasound scans may be helpful.
What Is Ultrasound?
An ultrasound uses high-frequency sound waves to take pictures of structures within the body.
The doctor or technician uses a transducer that sends a stream of high-frequency sound waves into the body. These waves bounce off organs, muscles, and tissues, creating echoes that are converted into an image on a computer.
Sound waves are considered to be safe as opposed to X-rays, which emit radiation. This is why ultrasound is used during pregnancy.
What Is Ultrasound Therapy?
In addition to taking pictures of the body, ultrasound can also treat certain conditions. Doctors apply low-level waves to take pictures of unborn babies and internal body structures.
Higher-level waves, on the other hand, may help to:
- relieve pain
- calm inflammation
- encourage healing in tissues
A Brief History of Ultrasound Therapy
Research on using ultrasound to ease pain and inflammation began in the 1920s, according to an article published in The Australian Journal of Physiotherapy. As early as 1930, ultrasound therapy reportedly was being used to treat sciatica. Since then, studies have produced mixed results.
One thing is certain: ultrasound can produce heat in deep tissues. This may have a number of beneficial effects, including:
- an internal massage effect
- an increase in circulation
- a stimulating action that encourages healing
How Is Ultrasound Used for RA Treatment?
Rehabilitation therapists often use ultrasound therapy to help reduce inflammation and relieve pain. In 2002, researchers published a study looking at the effectiveness of this option for patients with RA.
Results showed that ultrasound used on the hands helped to increase grip strength. It also seemed to:
- improve wrist flexibility
- decrease morning stiffness
- reduce the number of swollen and painful joints
Physical Therapists Use Ultrasound
In 2007, researchers asked about 450 physical therapists for their opinions on using ultrasound to treat conditions like RA. Results showed that the therapists were likely to use ultrasound to accomplish the following:
- decrease inflammation
- improve muscle flexibility
- enhance scar tissue remodeling
- encourage healing
- decrease pain
- reduce swelling
Researchers concluded that ultrasound continues to be a popular treatment option for orthopedic conditions.
Ultrasound May Help in Bone Healing
In 2009, researchers published a study that observed ultrasound therapy in bone healing. Scientists reviewed past and recent literature findings. They examined data related to larger bones and the smaller bones of the face.
Numerous clinical and experimental studies found positive links between ultrasound and bone healing. As a bonus, ultrasound produced no serious complications or side effects—an advantage over other types of treatments. This may be helpful for RA patients experiencing bone erosion and deformities.
Ultrasound to Detect Disease Progression
In addition to helping to alleviate symptoms, an ultrasound may also help to determine the progression of RA.
Sometimes because of a lack of symptoms, patients may be thought to be in remission when they’re not. As a result, doctors may stop or delay treatments. This can have long-term negative consequences.
According to a 2012 study, ultrasound imaging can detect inflammation even in patients thought to be in remission. Such information allows doctors to form a more accurate picture of the disease progression. This can result in better treatments and therapies for patients.
Using Ultrasound at Home
Several ultrasound therapy devices are available for use in the comfort of your home. They’re considered safe, but effectiveness depends on quality.
If you’re interested in home ultrasound therapy, look for an FDA-approved unit from a company accredited by the Accreditation Commission for Health Care (ACHC). Machines vary in power output and frequency, as well as in other features. Ask your therapist for advice on the type of machine that would be best.
- ACHC I Home Health Accreditation I Hospice Accreditation I DMEPOS Accreditation I Pharmacy Accreditation I Private Duty Accreditation I Sleep Lab Accreditation I Behavioral Health Accreditation I CMS Deeming Authority. (n.d.). Accreditation Commission for Healthcare. Retrieved December 4, 2013, from http://www.achc.org/.
- Bruyn, GA, et al. (2013, Aug. 12). Ultrasound definition of tendon damage in patients with rheumatoid arthritis. Results of a OMERACT consensus-based ultrasound score focussing on the diagnostic reliability. Annals of Rheumatic Diseases. Retrieved December 4, 2013, from http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/23940212.
- Erdogan, O, and E Esen. (2009, Jun.). Biological aspects and clinical importance of ultrasound therapy in bone healing. Journal of Ultrasound Medicine, 28 (6): 765-76. Retrieved December 4, 2013, from http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/19470817.
- Fyfe, Margaret C, and Margaret I Bullock. (1985). Therapeutic Ultrasound: Some Historical Background and Development in Knowledge of Its Effect on Healing. The Australian Journal of Physiotherapy, 31 (6): 220-24. Retrieved December 4, 2013, from http://ajp.physiotherapy.asn.au/AJP/vol_31/6/AustJPhysiotherv31i6Fyfe.pdf.
- Ultrasound. (2012, Feb. 23). Mayo Clinic. Retrieved December 4, 2013, from http://www.mayoclinic.com/health/ultrasound/MY00308 .
- Rheumatoid Arthritis: Treatment and Drugs. (2013, July 27). Mayo Clinic. Retrieved December 4, 2013, from http://www.mayoclinic.com/health/rheumatoid-arthritis/DS00020/DSECTION=treatments-and-drugs.
- Wakefield, Richard J, et al. (2012, June 7). After treat-to-target: can a targeted ultrasound initiative improve RA outcomes? Annals of Rheumatic Diseases, 88 (1042): 482-86. Retrieved December 4, 2013, from http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/22562979.
- Wong, Rita A, Britta Schumann, Rose Townsend, and Crystal A Phelps. (2007, Aug.). A Survey of Therapeutic Ultrasound Use by Physical Therapists Who Are Orthopaedic Certified Specialists. Physical Therapy, 87 (8): 986-984. Retrieved December 4, 2013, from http://ptjournal.apta.org/content/87/8/986.abstract.