Osteoarthritis is often referred to as “wear and tear” arthritis or “degenerative arthritis”. It is a condition that occurs with aging and can cause significant pain. One might find as they grow older than their joints begin to creak and ache – some of this may be due to osteoarthritis. Some statistics estimate that around 10% of men and 13% of woman over the age of 60 have symptomatic osteoarthritis. This pain is often constant and significantly debilitating – coming to dominate the lives of millions of Americans each and every year. There are a number of different treatment out there – but many don’t work for patients and there’s a need to identify new and exciting therapies that could treat this chronic condition. Luckily a physical therapy technique known as ultrasound therapy has recently been shown to be effective for those suffering from osteoarthritis!
What is osteoarthritis?
Osteoarthritis can occur in any joint but typically affects the knee or the hip. There is a protective layer in each and every joint known as the cartilage which acts as a shock absorber and stops bones rubbing up against each other and causing significant pain. In individuals with osteoarthritis the cartilage wears down and bone on bone contact results in pain.
What is ultrasound therapy for osteoarthritis?
In a therapeutic ultrasound session sound waves from an ultrasound probe is used to relieve pain in a joint. This is usually done by a trained physiotherapist or doctor. In some specialized physiotherapy programmes the ultrasound treatment may be used before exercise therapy to relieve pain and allow the patient to undertake physiotherapies they wouldn’t be able to engage in with the pain.
So what’s the verdict – does ultrasound therapy work?
The technique has been used for a number of years – but evidence for its use has been slowly mounting. A Cochrane review suggested that it might be useful for knee osteoarthritis in 2010 but more research was needed. A recent 2017 study published in the journal “Ultrasound in Medicine and Biology” assessed its effectiveness in patients with osteoarthritis. The study included 62 patients 31 of which had the treatment 31 of which had a placebo treatment. They found that:
● In a patient receiving real ultrasound therapy, there was a significant improvement in pain compared to the sham group immediately after treatment
● At 1 month after treatment, there was no statistically significant improvement in the real group versus the sham group.
The authors conclude that
“In conclusion, US therapy has been found to be effective in reducing pain and improving physical function in the short term, but this positive effect was not persistent in the long term. However, we believe that the results of our study may contribute to ongoing research for the treatment of patients with knee OA, and further systematic investigation on larger patient populations may delineate the role of US in knee OA treatment.”
In fact, its use as a short-term treatment before another physiotherapy at some centers is potentially the best use for the experimental therapy.