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May 25, 2024
Author: Shelby
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There are a variety of tools and equipment your rehab team may use when helping to treat and manage your shoulder pain. 

A broader term for these pain management tools would be termed modalities.

Ultrasound is a type of modality commonly seen in the rehab setting. While most are probably familiar with ultrasound when used as an imaging or diagnostic tool, it can also be used in a different format as a pain management or therapeutic tool.

The big question is… Does it work??

Let’s break down what this tool does exactly and how effective it is for treating shoulder pain.

How Ultrasound Works for Pain Control

Generally speaking, ultrasound works by sending sound waves through the body in the area it is applied to. While ultrasound can be used for purposes of imaging and viewing the body’s soft tissues, in the rehab setting, it’s used for therapeutic purposes.

Ultrasound may be chosen, if appropriate, as an additional tool for pain management, such as with shoulder pain. It will allow a deeper form of heat into the applied soft tissues, greater than what you can achieve with a more superficial hot pack or heating pad. It also has the potential to move or manipulate the tissues in the affected area, which can help with improving joint mobility and overall range of motion.

The ultrasound head is applied to the area being treated, with the use of ultrasound gel as a medium the head moves through. Use of therapeutic ultrasound requires a slow, but continuous movement around the painful region. This tool may be utilized for an average of ~10 minutes or so, as tolerated.

Is Ultrasound Helpful for Should Pain?

There is mixed evidence when it comes to research for the effectiveness of ultrasound. Some research is more supportive and more favorable of its use, while others not so much. 

Clinically speaking, when treating an area of pain, such as the shoulder, modalities, such as ultrasound, are not necessarily the first treatment of choice. There may be other treatment methods, with stronger research to back them up, that should be tried first. However, if pain does persist or someone is not progressing as well as would be expected, and the individual is a candidate for ultrasound therapy, then it absolutely can be trialed.

Some individuals may have already had therapeutic ultrasound treatment in the past, and know if it does or doesn’t work for their body. This type of information is important to consider, along with research and clinical experience.

Common contraindications, or scenarios when you absolutely would not use ultrasound on an individual, include the following:

  • Active cancer
  • Active blood clot or infection
  • Near or around the heart or eyes
  • Over total joint replacements
  • Areas lacking normal sensation
  • In children, so as not to affect normal bone development or growth
  • Pregnant women, outside of diagnostic purposes used in an OB office
  • Areas with poor blood flow 
  • Over reproductive organs
  • Over healing fractures 
  • With someone who has a pacemaker, especially over the thoracic region of the body

What’s the Final Verdict?

So, what’s the final answer??

This is, unfortunately, one of those it depends situations.

If you don’t have any contraindications for use of therapeutic ultrasound, your therapist may choose to try this with you to treat and manage your shoulder pain.

This is especially the case if you are having persistent shoulder pain that is not responding as well to other measures already trialed during treatment, such as exercise or manual techniques. 

If you have had therapeutic ultrasound in the past and feel it has helped you, never be afraid to mention that to your therapist. Sometimes, regardless of what the research says, you have to make more clinical judgements if a tool is right to use, which will also take into account if a patient has had success with a modality, such as ultrasound, in the past. 

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About the Author Shelby

Shelby Green is a Florida-licensed Doctor of Physical Therapy (DPT), currently practicing at St. Anthony’s Resource Center Outpatient Rehabilitation in St. Petersburg, FL. Shelby received her Bachelor of Science in Biology from the University of South Florida, followed by her DPT from the University of St. Augustine for Health Sciences. Shelby has 6 years clinical experience practicing in both the acute care and outpatient rehab settings. Specialties include orthopedics, with additional training in specific manual therapy techniques for pain management, as well as extensive training as a Certified Lymphedema Therapist.

Shelby is a Tampa, FL native, which is where she and her husband currently reside. Their favorite activities include spending time with family and anything outdoors, such as walking, bike riding, and going to the beach.

Medical Disclaimer

This website is intended to provide educational information only and should not be taken as medical advice. The information shared on this website is based on research, but is not intended to replace the advice of a healthcare professional. We recommend that you consult your healthcare provider for any specific questions or concerns you may have. The website does not accept responsibility for any harm that may occur from using the information given on this site. Speak to your medical provider about any health issues!

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