I read a 2011 paper, Low-intensity pulsed ultrasound reduces the inflammatory activity of synovitis. that mention that ultrasound can help reduce inflammation.

However, Save Yourself article states:

Unfortunately — although there are some interesting exceptions and tantalizing hopes for some conditions — ultrasound is not a promising therapy for most musculoskeletal conditions. There is a jarring, bizarre lack of research for such a popular therapy. What little research is available paints an overwhelmingly bland picture. And the principle of US itself is, at best, much more complicated and unpredictable than most therapists believe. At worst, there is no rational basis for US at all. Ultrasound therapy is almost certainly useful for some patients, some of the time — but it is not a reliable or evidence-based therapy.

So, does ultrasound work to reduce inflammation (e.g. treat musculoskeletal problems, especially inflammation such as tendonitis and bursitis)?

  • A preliminary trial of mouse knees hardly undermines the claim that there is little reliable evidence for treatment. Is there a reason you don't trust the meta-analyses cited by the Save Yourself article? (I want to avoid answers that simply regurgitate the exact same statements as were cited.)
    – Oddthinking
    Aug 19, 2013 at 11:48
  • Two things, one is that I'm not sure alternative-medicine is appropriate since ultrasound is an accepted form of physical therapy. Second is that with regards to physical therapy the mechanism of action is to increase blood-flow to encourage healing which doesn't seem to match with with reduction of inflammation per se.
    – rjzii
    Aug 19, 2013 at 13:30

1 Answer 1


A 2010 meta-analysis suggests

US could be efficacious for decreasing pain and may improve physical function in patients with knee OA. The findings of this review should be confirmed using methodologically rigorous and adequately powered clinical trials.

But another study found

within 4 weeks of the commencement of treatment manual acupuncture, static magnets and ultrasound therapies did not offer statistically significant short-term pain relief over placebo.

I have many Physical Therapist friends who swear by US and I have personally received it for an injury. It feels warm but so does wax and one study found they are equally effective or ineffective depending on the outcome you are measuring.

Exercise alone, however, for arthritic hands yielded better improvement than wax baths combined with exercises for pain on non-resisted motion. There is no significant difference between wax and therapeutic ultrasound, or between wax and faradic bath combined with ultrasound for all the outcomes measured after 1, 2 or 3 week(s).

McMaster University is the home of Evidence Based Medicine. Their review found it is favored by Physical Therapists:

The use of US for the management of clients with nonsurgical knee OA is variable; however more than 80% of physical therapists surveyed use US, at least on rare occasions, despite the fact that only 46% endorsed the belief that US was likely to benefit the client. The primary rationale for applying US is to treat soft tissue pain.

But their review falls short of endorsing its use other than short-term relief of pain.

I benefit from and suggest to my patients to simply wash dishes in hot water. Soaks alone are not as beneficial as washing dishes as you are combining exercise with heat and this therapy is not only free but helps your spouse with daily chores therefore may provide benefits other than medical to your relationship. ;)

  • Richard, are you a therapyst? Mar 8, 2017 at 18:27
  • "McMaster University is the home of Evidence Based Medicine." - citation (desperately) needed
    – Nij
    Mar 9, 2017 at 4:38
  • i was an ICU nurse and a molecular biologist but I work closely with physical therapists. Not sure why this matters though. I know how to read medical research well and often help friends with medical questions. if you are interested here is my book I wrote: amazon.com/Bottom-Line-Laymans-Guide-Medicine/dp/0875864562 Mar 13, 2017 at 16:32
  • "In 1992 [sic], medical researchers at McMaster University in Ontario, Canada first defined evidence-based medicine (EBM) in the biomedical literature. The concept was based on advances in clinical research - clinical trials, clinical epidemiology, and meta-analysis - in which the limits of individual expertise were recognized." ebm.mcmaster.ca/about_background.htm jamanetwork.com/journals/jama/article-abstract/400956 Here you go Nij. I thought this was common knowledge by now Mar 13, 2017 at 17:05

You must log in to answer this question.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged .