Contraindications For Ultrasound Therapy

Written by Pam MS, NCSP | Fact checked by Psychology Dictionary staff 

Physical therapists often use ultrasound technology to reduce inflammation, pain and muscle spasms in affected areas, which can also work to improve range of motion. Ultrasound emits sound waves that penetrate tissues and create heat. When used by trained technicians and applied properly, the therapy is effective. However, the technology cannot be used on certain body locations or on patients diagnosed with certain medical conditions.

Prohibited Locations

Ultrasound therapy can never be used over the eyes. A lack of sufficient blood circulation combined with the heat generated by the sound waves could lead to damaged retinas or an increased risk of developing cataracts. In general, the treatment should not be applied to the head region. The heat created in tissues also prohibit treatment of the testicle region as sterility may occur. As a matter of fact, males and females should not receive treatments over areas of the body where reproductive lie beneath.
Patients having pacemakers are also at risk due to the possibility that the sound waves might alter the implant's performance. In these instances, the chest area must be avoided. As metal conducts heat, which could damage surrounding tissue, ultrasound is contraindicated in regions where metallic implants exist.

Contraindicated Medical Conditions

Ultrasound cannot be used in areas of the body containing malignant tissues. Studies suggests that the penetrating heat may increase the chance of cancerous cells breaking free from a mass and circulating to other areas of the body. The same is true in the case of localized tissue or bone infections. The warmth created improves circulation and encourages spreading of the infection. The side effect of enhanced circulation combined with the heat produced are also dangers to patients diagnosed with vascular problems. Blood vessel ruptures may occur in people having weakened vessels.

Ultrasound therapy is also prohibited in patients known to have a tendency toward abnormal blood clot development. Warming and improving blood flow could encourage a hidden clot to travel through the bloodstream, which could lead to a heart attack, pulmonary embolism or stroke. Cardiac patients run the risk of enduring vasospasms if agreeing to treatment as vagal nerve stimulation might alter heart rate. The therapy is also not recommended patients having undergone following laminectomy procedures for fear of damaging the delicate nerve tissue of the spinal cord.

Additional Considerations

Physical therapy involving ultrasound should not be administered on any areas where a patient has diminished reflexes or reduced sensitivity to heat or pain. Care must also be taken when administering the therapy in children and adolescents, because the heat might damage the growth plates on the bones. Pregnant women cannot undergo ultrasound therapy on any region of the body. Unlike diagnostic ultrasound, the heat and vibration caused by the technology can lead to fetal birth defects.

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