What is a diagnostic ultrasound used for in physical therapy?

by | Feb 22, 2024 | Knee Pain, Foot and Ankle | 0 comments

Physical therapy examinations may include a diagnostic ultrasound. In diagnostic ultrasound, physical therapists use a device to generate sound waves. These sound waves produce images of body structures. Physical therapists use these images to check a variety of conditions and injuries. In a typical diagnostic ultrasound, physical therapists place a device on your skin. This technique allows for real-time visualization of structures, helping to assess injuries, inflammation or abnormalities. It is commonly used to diagnose conditions such as tendinopathy, ligament injuries, muscle tears and joint disorders. Musculoskeletal ultrasound is advantageous for its ability to provide dynamic images, allowing clinicians to evaluate structures during movement or certain activities.

There are two main types of diagnostic ultrasounds for physical therapy:

  • Anatomical ultrasound — An anatomical ultrasound shows images of your body structures. Examples include your muscles, ligaments and joints.
  • Functional ultrasound — A functional ultrasound adds information to images of your body structures. This information may include blood flow and tissue texture.

How are diagnostic ultrasounds different from traditional ultrasounds?

Some physical therapy sessions involve a diagnostic ultrasound. Here are some differences between diagnostic ultrasounds and traditional ultrasounds:

  • Function — In a traditional ultrasound, different groups of people study body structures. In a diagnostic ultrasound, physical therapists ask specific questions about a patient’s injury. Answers from the diagnostic ultrasound can inform the patient’s physical therapy treatment.
  • Cost — Traditional ultrasounds involve more expensive technology than diagnostic ultrasounds.
  • Location — Traditional ultrasounds must take place in labs and hospital units. A diagnostic ultrasound involves portable devices. This means that a physical therapist can use this technique outside a lab or hospital.
  • Accessibility — Because physical therapists can interpret a diagnostic ultrasound, diagnostic ultrasounds are more accessible than traditional ultrasounds. Traditional ultrasounds involve studies conducted by sonographers and radiologists. 
  • Time before treatment — Diagnostic ultrasounds generate live images of body structures. Physical therapists can immediately access these images. This means that they can diagnose a patient’s condition quickly. This quick diagnosis can reduce the time before a patient’s treatment. The results from a traditional ultrasound may take many hours or days to arrive. This may delay a patient’s treatment.
  • Accuracy of results — Diagnostic ultrasounds may increase the accuracy of a patient’s diagnosis. Diagnostic ultrasounds may also reduce the likelihood of unnecessary exams.
  • Risk level — Diagnostic ultrasounds provide live images. These live images lower the risk level for complications during treatment. In one study, researchers found that a diagnostic ultrasound reduced blood vessel damage.

What are 5 conditions that physical therapists can use diagnostic ultrasounds for?

Physical therapists can use diagnostic ultrasounds to diagnose the following medical conditions:

  • Ankle sprain — In an ankle sprain, the supportive tissue in the ankle stretches too far and starts to tear. Some symptoms include a swollen ankle and difficulty walking on the damaged ankle. A diagnostic ultrasound can improve a physical therapist’s ability to confirm you have an ankle sprain. This tool can also help them see how severe your sprain is, which can help improve their ability to treat your injury. 
  • Rheumatoid arthritis — Rheumatoid arthritis refers to the persistent inflammation of the joints. This means that your immune system is targeting the tissues in your body. In physical therapy, diagnostic ultrasound may identify an earlier stage of rheumatoid arthritis. This may improve the ability to manage this condition.
  • ACL or anterior cruciate tear — An ACL or anterior cruciate tear is a knee injury. It is when you injure the tissue that connects your thighbone to your shinbone. ACL injuries may occur during jumps or quick stops while playing sports. Some symptoms include knee swelling and pain. A diagnostic ultrasound may improve a medical professional’s ability to diagnose an ACL tear.
  • Rotator cuff tear — A rotator cuff tear causes swelling in your shoulder tissue. This is the tissue that attaches your shoulder bone to your shoulder muscles. This type of injury may occur if you fall on your shoulder or do the same arm movements. According to research, a diagnostic ultrasound can be used to diagnose a fully torn rotator cuff in 93.7% of cases.
  • Bursitis — Bursitis refers to the inflammation of the sacs near your joints. You may develop bursitis if you use your shoulder often. Some symptoms include shoulder pain and swelling. Patients have reported that a diagnostic ultrasound helped them better manage their bursitis treatment.

Forever Fit’s physical therapists can use diagnostic ultrasounds as part of your PT plan

Having difficulty with your daily activities because of consistent pain? Forever Fit in Burtonsville, Maryland, is here to help you improve your health. We offer various physical therapy techniques, including diagnostic ultrasound. Our team strives to address the main cause of your pain, not just your symptoms. We value one-on-one interactions and quality care. 

Our licensed physical therapists offer techniques that can help strengthen your muscles. During your first physical therapy visit, a physical therapist will conduct an examination. The goal is to test your strength, motion range and areas of injury. This examination may use diagnostic ultrasound to determine the extent of your injury or condition or its precise location. Our physical therapists will use this examination to design a personalized treatment plan. In general, the first PT visit lasts about 40 minutes. You should bring the following items to your session:

  • Insurance card.
  • Photo identification.
  • List of current medications.
  • A referral (if you have one).
  • Related test results.

Contact our team today for more information about diagnostic physical therapy or to schedule an initial appointment.

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