Does Ultrasound Relieve OA?

Ultrasound for Osteoarthritis

Does ultrasound really help osteoarthritis?

Ultrasound is commonly used by physiotherapists for OA. Sometimes they use an anti-inflammatory cream with the ultrasound, a method termed phonophoresis and this supposedly improves the absorption of the anti-inflammatory cream.

But do either of these therapies relieve your OA?

This study on using ultrasound and anti inflammatory creams for OA was widely reported on the Internet, including at News Medical. The patients had 5 sessions of ultrasound a week. Some had just ultrasound with anti-inflammatory, some had just anti-inflammatory cream. The results showed the ones who had ultrasound had slightly more pain relief than the ones who had just the cream.

There are several problems with using ultrasound for OA.

Firstly these people had 10 sessions in 2 weeks so even if you have medical insurance you are going to use it up pretty quick! You can buy your own ultrasound machine but….

Ultrasound has been shown to be ineffective for OA!

This is the conclusion of a review study (I like review studies as they go over everyone else’s work and you tend to get a more balanced view) into the effectiveness of ultrasound for OA.


Therapeutic ultrasound is a physical therapy that can be used as part of an overall rehabilitation program for musculoskeletal disorders such as OA. This review compared ultrasound to placebo or active therapy (galvanic current or short wave diathermy). In three studies with a total of 147 participants assigned to ultrasound there was no benefit of ultrasound therapy for pain relief, range of motion or functional status.

We were taught how to use ultrasound at College and I was never convinced by it’s effectiveness. I always preferred to massage by hands as I could feel where the bad bits were and work directly on them. It was harder work so, rather cynically, I always thought that it why other therapists used a machine to do the work for them!

I honestly believe the only benefit from ultrasound is the massaging effect of actually running the tool over the joint. This can be done by hand, at home, by the individual with very little instruction so why should they have the financial pain of paying for treatment as well as the physical pain? Click on this link to read more about why massage works for osteoarthritis.

Using anti-inflammatory cream to do this massage I believe does enhance the effect of both the massage and the cream. You can use a natural cream (I use RealHeal Oil as I prefer something more slippery!) or you can use a chemical one such as an ibuprofen gel or cream. The longer you rub it in the better and that is all I think these researchers have found. They have used the ultrasound wand to rub the cream in for longer!

Bottom line is you can have the same effect as ultrasound without the outlay for a machine or going to the therapist!

If you want to learn more about some proven and effective  treatments for osteoarthritis sign up for my free course on pain management.

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