Rheumatoid arthritis (RA) is an autoimmune inflammatory disease which primarily causes chronic pain, inflammation, swelling and stiffness. Currently, treatment involves the use of medications to alleviate symptoms, some of which include corticosteroids, over-the-counter pain relievers, and immunosuppressants, amongst others. The primary aim is to alleviate symptoms, as well as slow down progression of the condition.
Alternative treatment measures are something that medical scientists and researchers have been investigating for some time. Ultrasound therapy is one line of research that has cropped up as a potential means to effectively treat RA.
Research has looked into how high-frequency sound waves, which bounce off muscles, tissues and organs may be able to treat RA by relieving pain and inflammation, as well as promote the healing of bodily tissues affected by the disease.
Ultrasound therapy is not entirely a new concept and uses technology to better target painful areas. It was documented as a possible treatment option around the 1920s and early 1930s when it was used to alleviate symptoms of sciatica (a radiating pain that occurs due to pressure on the sciatic nerve, which runs from the lower back and down the legs).
It is known that an ultrasound procedure can slightly heat up tissues in the body. By heating deep tissues, experts have been able to identify possible benefits of using ultrasound in a therapeutic way (1).
Some ways this can potentially be achieved include:
- Helping to increase or improve circulation in the body
- Promote tissue and bone healing (reducing the risk of bone erosion and the development of deformities)
- Encourage an ‘internal massage’ effect
- Alleviating inflammation and pain, most notably when applied to the hands (studies have shown that this can improve grip strength, wrist flexibility, reduce swelling of joints and alleviate morning stiffness).
Many doctors and rehabilitation therapists already use ultrasound technology (or therapy) to treat and manage RA symptoms. Ultrasound imaging is also very useful for monitoring and tracking the progression of both the disease (detecting inflammation in the joints) and effectiveness of treatment.
For the most part, ultrasound therapy has not been shown to cause long-term side-effects and complications, and although treatment links have been established in numerous studies, more comprehensive high-quality investigations may still be required before ultrasound therapy can form part of a standard treatment plan.