November 12, 2012
Sound Waves Help Walton Pain Center Better Target and Treat Pain
Augusta, GA—For decades, ultrasound, or high-frequency sound waves, have been used as a safe and effective method to examine organs like the heart, or to monitor expectant women during pregnancy.
Ultrasound has also now been found to be an effective way to target and treat pain symptoms. Nationally, more and more physicians are using musculoskeletal ultrasound, said Dr. John Nicholson, medical director at the Walton Pain Center, who has trained on the use of the device over the past year. The center is one of the first in the Augusta area to incorporate musculoskeletal ultrasound into its care of pain patients.
"Musculoskeletal ultrasound offers a number of benefits," said Dr. Nicholson. "It's easier than an MRI, it's less expensive and, for patients, it provides immediate feedback. Patients love seeing what's happening on a musculoskeletal level in real time."
Musculoskeletal ultrasound involves a mobile ultrasound device and a wand that can pick up internal structures of the nerves, tendons and ligaments. Bones show up as bright white, while fluid build-up are pockets of darkness.
Physicians trained in the use of the device can trace the wand over any joint--shoulder, knee, wrist or elbow--to help diagnose new pain problems such as joint swelling, bursitis or tissue edema. The device is also highly effective in diagnosing carpal tunnel syndrome.
A video function on the device also allows doctors to record video in real time so they can identify dynamic changes, which appear only during movement of a joint, as well as changes in blood flow.
Joint injections can be painful if physicians don't accurately hit the synovial recess, which is the entrance into a joint and in the past was identified through joint flexion and knowledge of the anatomy. Because musculoskeletal ultrasound allows physicians to view internal structures in real time, physicians can also deliver these injections more precisely. "I'm not interested in repositioning my needle based on the pain or discomfort of my patients," said Dr. Nicholson. "Musculoskeletal ultrasound can make joint injections much more comfortable for patients."
"Pain management requires patient buy-in," added Dr. Nicholson, "Yet as a symptom, pain is often hard to see. Musculoskeletal ultrasound lets patients know that their pain is not an abstraction--they actually see it on the screen. So patients who might otherwise ignore their symptoms can see that there is damage, and they need to protect their joint. And other patients can also see that perhaps the injury or pain isn't as bad as they thought, and that they can complete their prescribed therapy and push through to get better."
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