Scottish Doctors Are Applying Ultrasound to Broken Bones. Does That Really Help?

By Douglas Main | October 14, 2011 4:02 pm

A team of doctors in Glasgow, Scotland, have begun using ultrasound to help heal patients’ broken bones, claiming the technique can reduce recovery time by up to 40 percent with especially bad fractures. Developed in the 1950s by physicians in the same city, ultrasound is widely used in sonograms to produce images of developing fetuses. Sonograms are made by emitting sound waves into the body and recording the reflected patterns. To heal fractures, sound is emitted at a slightly different frequency and stimulates the development and activity of osteoblasts, which lay down new bone.

So does it work? So far the physicians only have anecdotal evidence to support their claims, like the surprisingly quick recovery of a Scottish man who fell off a 20-foot water tank and broke his ankle into eight pieces. A recent review of more than 40 years of research into ultrasound’s bone-healing abilities determined there’s good evidence the technology can help heal “fresh” fractures, i.e., within one to two weeks after the injury. While the study found some hints that ultrasound could help heal older fractures, the authors determined there wasn’t enough evidence to decide one way or another. An earlier review also concluded that ultrasound therapy can help recent fractures heal, but only found “preliminary evidence” it could help fix difficult or slowly-healing fractures.

[Via BBC]

Image: rearl / Flickr

CATEGORIZED UNDER: Health & Medicine, Technology
  • Jay Fox

    Didn’t they find, some years ago, that vibration therapy might help increase bone mass? There may well be something to this. The ultrasound waves set up some kind of vibration that somehow encourages bone (re)growth. Some grad student should study this and figure out exactly which frequencies promote the best outcome.

  • mk

    I read a long time ago that the purring of cats helps strengthen their bones. Something important for a creature that is at rest as much as they are. Could this be a similar idea?

  • dave

    so what are we doing to babies during an ultrasound? affecting their bone growth somehow?

  • http://www.brandalert.co.uk N Sarbutts

    This article suggests that there is little indpendent clinical evidence to support the use of Low Intensity Pulsed Ultrasound (LIPUS) in the treatment of fractures. In reality the reverse is true.

    NICE (the National Institute for Clinical Excellence), the independent body which provides guidance on treatments and devices in use in the UK National Health Service reviewed 19 seperate clinical studies before issuing guidance in December 2010 supporting the use of LIPUS in the treatment of both fresh fractures and non-union fractures.

    The guidance can be viewed at http://guidance.nice.org.uk/IPG374/PublicInfo/doc/English

    (Disclosure: I am an independent consultant working for Smith & Nephew, manufacturers of the Exogen device featured in the BBC report above.)

  • Sabrina Sniffen

    What does one think the overall effects of vibration on the human body are? Such as singing and huming. We are after all comprised mostly of water? Food for thought.

  • Dave C.

    I have my own ultrasound device. I use it on my elbow I broke 17 years ago. It keeps the arthritis and inflammation away and increases mobility. I love it. I don’t know exactly what it is doing to my joint, but it works.

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