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Utrasound versus Diathermy

Andrew Starsky, PT, PhD

June 13, 2012

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Question

Are you aware of evidence of the usage of ultrasound versus diathermy?  

Answer

I could give a whole separate class on diathermy.  There are two types of diathermy available and known these days.  There is electrical diathermy or capacitive diathermy where you place a patient’s limb between two plates.  Diathermy uses electromagnetic energy and it heats up the tissue much deeper.  If you have two plates touching the lateral and the medial knee, you would get heating 5 cm deep on one plate and 5 cm deep on the other plate.  It does heat deeper than ultrasound and treats a larger area than ultrasound.  Diathermy has gotten a bad rap.  A study which came out of the Netherlands had a number of therapists who used diathermy regularly and it was shown that those female therapists had a slight increase in incidence of miscarriages. Keep in mind that this study was from about 15-20 years ago.  The diathermy machines that were used back then were big machines with a lot of stray diathermy energy.  The diathermy energy did not stay between the two plates, it created energy all over the area.  Diathermy would be more advantageous then ultrasound if you are trying to treat a bigger area and need for deeper penetration of heat.  Diathermy has been shown to be effective in osteoarthritis of the knee, joint range of motion especially at the ankle for dorsiflexion, hamstring flexibility, rheumatoid arthritis, low back pain, etc.  To my knowledge there has not been a direct comparison of ultrasound and diathermy.  Diathermy has made a name for itself with chronic inflammatory pelvic disease in female for treating pain.  There is a lot of literature from Europe and Africa on this. 

There is also single plate diathermy which uses a pulsed magnetic field to treat tissues.  It also treats about 5 cm deep.  Diathermy as well seems to treat tissue that has more water a little more preferentially.  It does not really heat up fat (adipose tissue) and tends to direct itself towards muscle and the fluid within a joint space.  In that aspect, diathermy seems a little superior over ultrasound.


andrew starsky

Andrew Starsky, PT, PhD

Andrew Starsky earned a Bachelor of Science in Electrical Engineering Degree from Marquette University in 1992. After practicing in the engineering field for 3 years, he returned to Marquette and received a Masters of Physical Therapy degree in 1998. While working full time, he starting to pursue a terminal degree in Biomedical Engineering and received his Ph.D. in 2007. He has been part of the adjunct faculty since 1999 and became a full time Clinical Assistant Professor in 2005. Andrew teaches the didactic portion of the DPT program in the 5th and 6th years. He lives in Mequon with his wife and 4 kids and is an active participant in ultramarathons, Nordic ski races, and adventure races.

 


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