Ultrasound Therapy Treatment for Chronic Pain

Ultrasound therapy is a noninvasive treatment in which sound waves are used to penetrate soft tissues, increasing blood flow. This can help relieve pain, improve circulation, and promote tissue healing. As such, ultrasound therapy is often used to treat injuries and muscle spasms, as well as chronic issues like neck or back pain.

Typically a physical therapist, a professional who helps individuals manage pain and improve mobility, administers this treatment. Occupational therapists, professionals who help individuals with acts of daily living, may offer ultrasound therapy as well.

Ultrasound therapy is also called therapeutic ultrasound or focused ultrasound.

A person receiving ultrasound therapy on their knee.
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This article explains uses for therapeutic ultrasound, as well as how it's performed. It also covers how effective and safe it is.

What Is Ultrasound Therapy Used For?

Studies suggest that ultrasound therapy can be used effectively for treating certain chronic pain conditions as an early stage, non-invasive option. It is also used as an alternative treatment option, or as a complement to more invasive methods such as surgery.

Ultrasound therapy may be potentially helpful in treating pain associated with several conditions:

While the FDA has approved ultrasound therapy as a treatment modality for many chronic pain conditions, more research is still being done for other possible uses.

Types of Ultrasound Therapy

There are two types of ultrasound therapy that your provider may administer. The one you get depends on what condition you're looking to treat:

  • Mechanical: This type of therapy relies on mechanical vibrations to penetrate the soft tissues. This creates cavitation, tiny gas bubbles that quickly expand/contract and are thought to reduce swelling and inflammation. Mechanical ultrasound is also believed to help break down scar tissue and deposits such as painful kidney stones.
  • Thermal: This type of therapy warms the skin and muscles, which may help with pain. It is typically used to treat minor injuries, such as strains and sprains.

Click Play to Learn More About the Use of Therapeutic Ultrasound

This video has been medically reviewed by Laura Campedelli, PT, DPT.

Benefits and Limitations

There are a number of benefits to including ultrasound therapy as a part of your physical therapy treatment for these conditions. For example:

  • It may eliminate or reduce dependence on pain medication.
  • It is easy, painless, and non-invasive.
  • When correctly performed, there are no known side effects.
  • It is generally considered safe for most people.

That said, ultrasound therapy is not safe to use:

  • If you are pregnant
  • Over the spine or eyes
  • On parts of the body where there is an active infection
  • If you have a pacemaker, or a device that helps regulate your heartbeat
  • Over broken bones
  • Over any areas with implanted medical devices
  • Over or near areas with cancerous tumors

What to Expect

Before starting your treatment, your therapist will check to make sure you don't have any burns, infections, or other problems that might contraindicate the therapy.

Your therapist will then select a small surface area to work on based on your specific condition and apply a gel either to the transducer head, the wand that emits the sound waves, or to your skin. This helps distribute the sound wave energy and prevents the transducer from getting too hot.

During your ultrasound therapy treatment, your therapist will continually move the transducer head over and around the selected area to deliver the sound waves where needed.

Treatments may last for five to 10 minutes, but this can vary depending on your needs.

Is Therapeutic Ultrasound Painful?

Ultrasound therapy is not painful if the therapist keeps the wand moving continuously. However, if the wand is held in one spot for more than a few seconds, it can become uncomfortable.

Don’t be surprised, however, if you feel nothing at all, apart from the cold gel on your skin. If the area being treated is especially sensitive to touch, you could possibly feel discomfort as the transducer head passes over.

Let the therapist know if you experience any discomfort.

Safety of Ultrasound Therapy

Studies suggest that ultrasound therapy is safe when administered properly to those who qualify for the treatment.

Therapeutic ultrasound does not usually cause side effects. It may, however, cause harm if it is improperly administered. For example, during thermal therapy, a wand that's left in one spot for too long may cause injury. If you feel any discomfort, let your therapist know at once.

Ultrasound therapy should be performed by a licensed professional with a device that has been approved by the FDA.


Ultrasound therapy is a non-invasive, generally painless treatment that is typically administered by a physical therapist or an occupational therapist.

It has been FDA approved to help treat a variety of pain conditions and has been shown to be generally safe when done properly. However, certain individuals should not receive this treatment.

A Word From Verywell

Finding a treatment method that works best for your pain is often a trial-and-error process.

If you haven't had any improvement in your pain after several ultrasound treatments, ask your therapist or healthcare provider about other options that may work better for you,

Frequently Asked Questions

  • Can you use ultrasound therapy for neck pain?

    You can use ultrasound therapy for neck pain. Research suggests that it may be a beneficial treatment for reducing the intensity of neck pain when compared to no treatment or a sham treatment.

  • Can ultrasound therapy be used for inflammation?

    Yes. Research suggests that ultrasound therapy may improve joint function and reduce pain associated with inflammatory conditions, like arthritis.

8 Sources
Verywell Health uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
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  2. Focused Ultrasound Foundation. Focused ultrasound for the treatment of pain.

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  4. Noori SA, Rasheed A, Aiyer R, et al. Therapeutic ultrasound for pain management in chronic low back pain and chronic neck pain: a systematic reviewPain Med. 2020;21(7):1482-1493. doi:10.1093/pm/pny287

  5. Ilter L, Dilek B, Batmaz I, et al. Efficacy of pulsed and continuous therapeutic ultrasound in myofascial pain syndrome: A randomized controlled study. Am J Phys Med Rehabil. 2015;94(7):547-54. doi:10.1097/PHM.0000000000000210

  6. Palanisamy P, Alam M, Li S, Chow SKH, Zheng Y. Low‐intensity pulsed ultrasound stimulation for bone fractures healing: a reviewJ of Ultrasound Medicine. 2022;41(3):547-563. doi:10.1002/jum.15738

  7. Miller DL, Smith NB, Bailey MR, et al. Overview of therapeutic ultrasound applications and safety considerationsJ Ultrasound Med. 2012;31(4):623–634. doi:10.7863/jum.2012.31.4.623

  8. U.S. Food and Drug Administration. Ultrasonic therapy product or ultrasonic diathermy.

By Erica Jacques
Erica Jacques, OT, is a board-certified occupational therapist at a level one trauma center.