Can Ultrasound Therapy Help My Rheumatoid Arthritis?

Curated by Claudia Shannon / Research Scientist / ishonest

Rheumatoid arthritis (RA) can cause a variety of symptoms that can make it difficult to go about your daily activities. These symptoms can include:

    pain
  • stiffness
  • inflammation
  • swelling

Current treatments include:

  • over-the-counter (OTC) pain relievers
  • immunosuppressants
  • corticosteroids
  • other prescription drugs
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These medications may help ease your symptoms and slow down the progression of your RA. They may also bring side effects.

Ultrasound imaging can help your doctor watch for changes in your disease. This creates pictures of structures inside your body.

During an ultrasound, your doctor or technician uses a transducer to send a stream of high-frequency sound waves into your body. These waves bounce off your organs, muscles, and tissues. They create echoes that are converted into images on a computer.

As researchers continue to look for alternative treatments for RA, some have been looking to ultrasound therapy to see if it can help.

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For example, ultrasound waves may help to:

  • relieve pain
  • calm inflammation
  • promote healing in tissues

One thing is certain: Ultrasound can produce heat in deep tissues. This may have some benefits, like creating an internal massage effect and helping to increase circulation.

How is ultrasound used to manage RA?

Your doctor or rehabilitation therapist may use ultrasound technology in different ways.

For example, they might use ultrasound therapy to help treat symptoms of RA. They may also use ultrasound imaging to help track your disease.

Reducing pain and inflammation
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Therapists sometimes use ultrasound therapy to help reduce inflammation and pain.

It was suggested that when ultrasound is applied to your hands, it may help increase your grip strength. It may also help:

  • improve wrist flexibility
  • decrease morning stiffness
  • reduce the number of swollen and painful joints

The studied suggested that additional treatments, such as wax baths, did not improve the treatment and that ultrasound therapy alone was the most effective.

In 2017, a small study suggested that underwater ultrasound therapy had positive short-term results on:

    pain
  • quality of life
  • joint function
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The results didn’t seem to maintain effectiveness in the long term, however.

Despite these results, more research is needed on the use of ultrasound therapy for RA. High-quality clinical trials on the subject are lacking.

Monitoring disease progression

Your doctor may also use ultrasound imaging to help track your condition.

In some cases, your RA symptoms may clear, leading you to believe that your condition is in remission. As a result, your doctor may lower your RA treatments.

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If your condition isn’t actually in remission, however, this can have long-term negative consequences.

Ultrasound imaging can detect inflammation in your joints, even if you don’t have noticeable symptoms. This can help your doctor form an accurate picture of your condition and provide more effective and targeted treatment.

Using ultrasound therapy at home

Ultrasound therapy devices vary in power output, frequency, and other features. Ask your therapist for advice on which device would be best for you.

While ultrasound therapy is considered safe, its effectiveness may vary depending on the device you use.

Takeaway

The benefits of ultrasound therapy for rheumatoid arthritis are still being researched. While current results reveal some positive effects on pain and inflammation, more research needs to be done.

Side effects and risks are minimal, so talk with your healthcare team about the therapy if you’re interested in adding it to your treatment regimen.

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