Rheumatoid arthritis (RA) can cause a variety of symptoms that can make it difficult to go about your daily activities. These symptoms can include:
Current treatments include over-the-counter (OTC) pain relievers, immunosuppressants, corticosteroids, and other drugs. These drugs may help ease your symptoms and slow down the progression of your RA. They may also bring side effects.
As researchers continue to look for alternative treatments, some have found evidence that ultrasound therapy may be helpful. Ultrasound imaging can also help your doctor watch for changes in your disease.
Ultrasound is used to create pictures of structures inside your body. During an ultrasound, your doctor or technician uses a transducer to send a stream of high-frequency sound waves into your body. These waves bounce off your organs, muscles, and tissues. They create echoes that are converted into images on a computer.
Ultrasound therapy may also be used to treat certain conditions. For example, ultrasound waves may help to:
- relieve pain
- calm inflammation
- encourage healing in tissues
According to an article published in the Australian Journal of Physiotherapy, research on the use of ultrasound therapy for easing pain and inflammation began in the 1920s. As early as 1930, ultrasound therapy was reportedly 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 some benefits. For example, it may:
- have an internal massage effect
- help increase circulation
- encourage healing
Your doctor or rehabilitation therapist may use ultrasound technology in different ways. For example, they might use ultrasound therapy to help treat symptoms of RA. They may also use ultrasound imaging to help track your disease.
Reducing pain and inflammation
Therapists sometimes use ultrasound therapy to help reduce inflammation and pain. In 2002, researchers published a study in the Cochrane Database of Systematic Reviews on ultrasound therapy in people with RA. The study suggests that when ultrasound is applied to your hands, it may help increase your grip strength. It may also help:
- improve wrist flexibility
- decrease morning stiffness
- reduce the number of swollen and painful joints
Despite these results, more research is needed on the use of ultrasound therapy for RA. High-quality clinical trials on the subject are lacking.
Promoting bone healing
In 2009, researchers published a study in the Journal of Ultrasound in Medicine on ultrasound therapy and bone healing. The researchers reviewed older and new literature findings. Some studies showed links between ultrasound and bone healing.
The authors didn’t focus specifically on RA. But the bone-healing potential of ultrasound therapy might help people who experience bone erosion or other deformities as a complication of RA.
The authors also found that ultrasound therapy was a safe procedure. It poses no risk of serious complications or side effects.
Monitoring disease progression
Your doctor may also use ultrasound imaging to help track your condition. In some cases, your RA symptoms may clear, leading you to believe that your condition is in remission. As a result, your doctor may lower your RA treatments. If your condition isn’t actually in remission, this can have long-term negative consequences.
Ultrasound imaging can detect inflammation in your joints, even if you don’t have noticeable symptoms. This can help your doctor form an accurate picture of your condition. This can help them provide better treatment.
Several ultrasound therapy devices are available for home use. If you’re interested in at-home ultrasound therapy, look for an FDA-approved unit from a company accredited by the Accreditation Commission for Health Care (ACHC).
Ultrasound therapy devices vary in power output, frequency, and other features. Ask your therapist for advice on which device would be best for you. While ultrasound therapy is considered safe, its effectiveness may vary depending on the device you use.