When it comes to healthcare, ultrasound is generally recognized as a useful diagnostic tool that can help doctors visualize the body’s internal structures. However, this imaging technology is sometimes presented as a way to address chronic back pain. Is this claim substantiated? Find out by looking at what the science has to say.

Ultrasound and Back Pain: The Theory

Supporters of using ultrasound for back pain claim that vibrations from sonic waves can help patients find relief. During ultrasound therapy, a small wand is passed over the skin above the painful area. This wand emits ultrasound waves, which vibrate through the tissue. The theory is that these waves produce heat that relaxes tight muscles and improves flexibility, helping to ease pain from compressive disorders such as herniated discs and sciatica. Ultrasound therapy is described as being non-invasive and safe enough to be repeated several times a dayUltrasound-for-Back-Pain

What Does the Science Say About Ultrasound for Back Pain?

A study conducted in 2013 compared the effectiveness of ultrasound therapy and osteopathic manual treatment, a hands-on type of treatment that is similar to what you might experience from chiropractic care. A group of 455 patients with chronic low back pain received six osteopathic manual treatments and ultrasound therapy over the course of eight weeks. The patients who underwent the manual treatment saw a moderate improvement in their back pain when compared to a control group who received “sham” osteopathic treatment. However, no improvement was seen among patients who received ultrasound therapy.

In this same study, patients who underwent osteopathic manual treatments reported being very satisfied with their care throughout the course of their treatment. They also relied on prescription pain drugs less frequently than the control group. These differences were not observed in patients who underwent ultrasound.

Finding the Right Treatment for Your Back Pain

The most recent science concludes that there is very little evidence that ultrasound therapy is an effective method for addressing back pain. If you are living with chronic discomfort in your back, consider reaching out to a chiropractor instead. Chiropractic care focuses on hands-on manipulation and mobilization techniques that relieve pain and restore joint function in the back, neck and other areas of the body. Your chiropractor will also spend time reviewing your medical history and discussing your day-to-day lifestyle with you to help pinpoint the cause of your discomfort. Together you will build a plan to help address your symptoms, reduce the risk of further injury and maintain your overall musculoskeletal health.

While ultrasound therapy may not be an effective treatment for back pain, there are still many options out there that don’t involve the risks of drugs or surgery. There’s no reason to keep living with the pain or limitations of back pain. We can help! Call or visit our office today to learn more about our approach.

chiropractic for treating degenerative disc diseaseDegenerative disc disease (DDD) is a very common medical condition that affects a large and growing portion of the population. In fact, the low back pain that often accompanies DDD is the leading cause of disability in people under age 45. DDD has long been recognized as a difficult condition to treat, and many patients undergo invasive, expensive and risky surgical procedures every year in an effort to find relief.

Part of the reason DDD can be difficult to treat is that disc degeneration itself is not really a distinct diagnosis at all. Rather, DDD refers more generally to a breakdown of the spongy cartilage discs that separate and cushion your vertebrae. This breakdown is most often caused by normal changes that occur as part of the aging process. While a majority of people will experience these changes pain-free, an estimated 85 percent of the population will show evidence of some disk degeneration by the time they reach age 50. This means that there are two important things to keep in mind when it comes to DDD:

  1. Most people will eventually have disc degeneration even if they do not have symptoms.
  2. The fact that some degeneration is apparent in diagnostic imaging does not necessarily mean that DDD is actually responsible for your symptoms (pain, reduced mobility, etc.).


At the more conservative end of the spectrum, traditional treatment of DDD has usually involved finding ways to manage the pain. The most common of these is taking non-steroidal painkillers such as aspirin, ibuprofen or acetaminophen. However, it’s important to realize that this does not ultimately address the cause of the problem. The good news is that there are other conservative options available.

Many patients have found that manual therapies, such as chiropractic care and therapeutic low back massages can improve mobility and reduce pain without the need for medication. These approaches center on restoring blood flow, easing inflammation, reducing muscle tension and increasing range of motion. They can also stimulate the release of pain-relieving natural endorphins.

Non-surgical spinal decompression therapy has also proven to be effective for many patients. This treatment involves gently separating the vertebrae to reduce pressure on the spinal discs and encourage nutrients and water to flow back into them.


Surgical options range from minimally-invasive procedures like microdiscectomies to more invasive ones such as laminectomies and spinal fusions (also called spondylodesis). Under certain circumstances, surgery may help relieve the pain caused by DDD and related pressure on nerves. While these types of techniques have become increasingly common, they all involve the risks that accompany any type of surgery. They also involve risks that are more specific to surgery on or around the spine.

Always be sure to consult your family physician and be sure to get a second (and third) opinion before undergoing any type of surgery. They can help you balance the likelihood of success against the risks and expense. Most healthcare professionals recommend that patients exhaust more conservative treatment options before choosing surgery.


Medical researchers and clinicians around the world are experimenting with other approaches to treating degenerative disc disease. Two of the more promising candidates include stem cell therapy and disc replacement. While both of these techniques are in the very early stages of development, they may eventually prove useful for the small percentage of people for whom more conservative therapies have not worked on a long-term basis.

Stem Cell Therapy

Some scientists are investigating the possibility of using stem cells to either restore the integrity of the disk or to prevent the disk’s further degeneration. Researcher Helena Barreto-Henriksson of the Institute of Clinical Sciences, and her colleagues at the Sahlgrenska University Hospital in Sweden found that when stem cells were injected into a damaged disc in animal models, they showed some healing capacity. According to Barreto-Henriksson, “Images taken by MRI showed that the transplanted stem cells survived, that they developed into cells that had a function similar to that of disc cells, and that there was a certain degree of healing in the disc.”

A similar recent study explored the use of notochord cells, which are the precursors of intervertebral discs that are present in all vertebrates, and which have been found to survive into adulthood in some animals. The study done on adult dogs found that these cells secreted a connective tissue growth factor (CTGF), which keeps cartilage healthy and flexible. If these cells can be found in the human vertebrae, therapies may be developed that would provide a simpler solution to treating DDD than surgery.

Disc Replacement

In more severe cases where surgery is necessary, it may soon be possible to replace individual vertebral discs. Engineers from Brigham Young University in Utah have recently developed an artificial spinal disc that is able to replicate the natural motion of the spine. Implanting this or a similar device may eventually be preferable to the current generation of surgical options.


While this article offers a very general look at some of the treatment options available for DDD-today and perhaps in the future-it would be an oversight not to mention some of the things you can do to slow the rate of disc degeneration and reduce its likely effects.

  1. Develop and maintain “core” muscle strength. Strong back and abdominal muscles help support your frame and reduce the likelihood of injury.
  2. Watch your posture.
  3. Drink plenty of water to stay hydrated. Your discs are mostly water, and they work best as shock absorbers when they are at maximum volume and thickness.
  4. Stay active. Movement encourages the flow of fluid and nutrients into your spinal discs.

With a growing segment of the population beginning to reach old age, both scientists and practitioners will continue to look for more and better solutions to age-related problems such as DDD. That said, it’s more important than ever for individuals to understand the role that their own lifestyle choices play in maintaining their health. These choices start with good nutrition, exercise and a basic awareness of biomechanics. Because prevention is always better than even the best cure.

Among veterans, musculoskeletal pain is one of the most common complaints, particularly low back pain (LBP). The number of veterans reporting to the Veteran’s Health Administration (VHA) with low back pain rose an average of 4.8 percent per year between 2000 and 2007, exceeding the rise in rates of diabetes, high blood pressure and depression. A survey of 15,000 veterans from the Persian Gulf War found that 45 percent reported experiencing back pain. Chiropractic services have been added to the care options for veterans, and most chiropractors providing services to veterans within the VHA reported that LBP was the primary complaint.

chiropractic for veterans with back painA study to determine the effectiveness of chiropractic care in treating veterans with LBP was performed on 171 patients who met the inclusion criteria. The average veteran was male, obese and suffering from chronic LBP (for over 6 months, on average). Most participants also presented with other physical and psychological issues. Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) is common in the veteran population and has been shown to contribute to chronic pain.

Veterans in the study received treatment from a chiropractor in the western New York area after being referred by their primary care physician. The number of treatments given to each case during the course of the study ranged from 2 to 26, with 8.7 being the mean number of treatments per person. Treatments were performed twice a week on average, and the patient was assessed after every four treatments.
Walnut Creek chiropractors used a range of treatment modalities on the subjects, including standard adjustments, spinal mobilization and flexion distraction. Patients were also instructed on how to perform therapeutic exercises and do stretches that were tailored to their specific condition.

Pain severity was measured by the Numeric Rating Scale (NRS), which is a verbal rating by the patient on the severity of pain using a scale ranging from 0 to 10 at the time treatment is undertaken. The Back Bournemouth Questionnaire (BBQ) is a biopsychosocial measurement of low back pain symptoms consisting of 7 questions that measure pain, disability, and the affective and cognitive-behavioral aspects of musculoskeletal problems. Scores on the BBQ range from 0 to 70, with higher numbers indicating a higher severity of symptoms.

After only two chiropractic treatments, 60 percent of veterans showed a significant improvement of 37.4 points on the NRS and 34.6 points on the BBQ measurements. The researchers concluded that, “Despite high levels of service-connected disability and comorbidity, veterans’ chiropractic clinical outcomes in terms of mean percentage improvement from baseline to discharge for both NRS and BBQ were statistically significant and clinically meaningful. This study adds to the understanding of chiropractic clinical outcomes for veterans with LBP and contributes to a foundation for further research.”