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Applications of Ultrasound in Medicine

Paper Type: Free Essay Subject: Physics
Wordcount: 2640 words Published: 9th Mar 2018

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AB Assessment – Using Waves


Ultrasound is a sound wave with an oscillating pressure wave with frequencies ranging from 20 kHz until approximately 200 MHz. These frequencies are not audible to humans. Ultrasonic devices are used to detect objects and measure the distance between them. Ultrasound has been more frequently used in medical imaging displaying the patient an object in their body or just generally looking at their body. Ultrasound seemingly is becoming popular due to it not emitting any radiations unlike X-Rays. [6]

Uses of Ultrasound

Ultrasound is used in the medical department as a means of imaging, enabling medical staff to view the patient’s body without any major problems. The most common use of Ultrasound in the medical department is its use in what is called an “ultrasound scan”. This is used to project a moving image of a fetus inside a pregnant womans body. An example of this can be seen on the left.Pregnancy ultrasound

Ultrasound is not only used to detect unborn fetuses but also view several organs in the body through ‘prenatal scanning’: The same method used for an ultrasound scan. Since ultrasound easily reflect off soft tissue, gel needs to be added to the part of the body where the scan is going to be conducted. A transducer is then used to generate the ultrasound waves and detect any echoes it receives from the reflected waves. During the process of scanning the waves also erode pieces of gallstone which reside within our organs, with their constant vibrations.[6][7][12]

Another use of Ultrasound is echo sounding. This is used by the quality control industry to detect flaws in pieces of metal. As an ultrasound wave is being passed through the metal, it will reach the defect area in the metal and the reflected wave that came of the defect area will be received by the transducer that emitted the wave. If there is more than one reflected wave it means the metal is defect. [7][12][13][15]

“Ultrasound waves can be used by the industry for cleaning.”[12] The waves are sent through a fluid and bubbles formed from the vibration of the ultrasound remove dirt from an object. The object which is placed in water or another solvent has fluid collapse into the gap left behind from the solvent. The bubbles then move rapidly, removing the dirt and resulting in a transcending standard of cleanliness.[12][15]

Dangers and Risks

The dangers of Ultrasound are considerably low compared to other waves. Even though there is no major threat in using ultrasound it does have its risks which could harm the user.

  • Excessive exposure to ultrasound waves of 120dB can lead to hearing loss. [6]
  • Excessive exposure of ultrasound waves at 155dB will cause cavitation heating up the users body cells. [6]
  • Excessive exposure to ultrasound waves of 180dB may lead to death. [6]
  • Cavitation may cause the users cells to heat up and invoke toxic reactions. [23]
  • Change in cells may cause Intestinal bleeding. [23]
  • Damage to fetus’s brain may lead to left handedness. [23]
  • Prenatal scans may cause early labour, premature birth, miscarriage and perinatal deaths. [23]
  • Possible disabilities formed are: epilepsy, dyslexia and delayed speech development. [23]

Ultrasound in Physiotherapy

“The aim of physiotherapy is to help restore movement and normal body function in cases of illness, injury and disability.”. [1] Physiotherapy tries to cure disabled body functions from affected people. Ultrasound has found its way into this world, bringing it’s useful treatment methods with it. It’s used to treat deep tissue injuries, reduce pain from spasms as wells as inflammation and swellings, increase tissue extensibility, speed up metabolism, reduce nerve irritation, enhance drug delivery and speed up healing. Ultrasound stimulates the blood circulation and the activity of cells to assist in the therapeutics. [1] [3] The ultrasound frequency that is used for physiotherapy ranges between 0.7 and 3 MHz. [5] Gel is applied to the patients body to reduce friction with the transducer and aid the transmission of ultrasound waves. The waves are absorbed by ligaments, tendons and fascia and the therapeutics affect apply. [5]ultrasound

Advantages and Disadvantages

  • More effective than a heat pack which prevents swellings from injuries. [20]
  • Increases metabolism, enabling faster healing. [20] [21]
  • Reduce pain felt in affected tissue, enabling the therapist to stretch the muscle. [20]
  • Gives patients false hope, thinking they can resume their daily activities because the pain is gone. [22]
  • Doesn’t reflect off bones or air limiting its use for scanning lungs. [7]
  • Limited knowledge on the effect and working process of ultrasound waves


Social Impact

Hospitalized childbirth has gained a sudden rise since the 20th century. This is due to the improved hospital technology and successful childbirth probability. [16] Since ultrasound has been part of the hospitals technology, mothers have wanted to view a fetal scanning of their unborn child. This has been done multiple times, but society keeps questioning if ultrasound scanning is safe. The fact of being able to view your unborn child provides ultrasound a plus point to it’s beneficial use. It allowed parents to find out the gender of their child before delivery and detect any abnormalities that may occur during pregnancy. [16]

Moral Impact

The use of ultrasound in prenatal scanning seems to be that it affects the relationship between mother and fetus. The cultural communication is gone and what remains is communication through a computer screen displaying the fetus. The mother will then use what she sees instead of relying on her embodied knowledge. [17] Ultrasound brings imbalance to the moral standing of the victim through injurious damage to the victim. This raises the moral awareness of fetuses and if they should be exposed to the waves emitted, which can bring injurious damage. But this will then degrade the mothers moral standing as she also becomes a victim of the injurious damage ultrasound can bring. [17]

Ethical Impact

Ultrasound has been most commonly known for determining the gender of the fetus. Ultrasound is a cheap resource since all you need is a transducer and someone who can operate the device. In countries like China and India, parents exploit this method by checking the gender of their child and then deciding to abort it due to the countries preference of males. [18] In india there are 250,000 female feticide abortions each year. The government has been trying to motivate people into valuing female fetuses but the Economic and Social impacts have lead to the occurrence of this ethical issue. [18]


Ultrasound is a secure soundwave with a minor probability of great risks. Ultrasound has been proven to be beneficial and useful in most industries and is popular in the medical industry. It’s a method used in physiotherapy to speed up healing and to improve the overall therapeutics. Although it has contrasting advantages and disadvantages, and is not worth recommending it should not discourage anyone from using ultrasound waves.


[1] “Physiotherapy – How It Works .” Physiotherapy. N.p., n.d. Web. 07 May 2014. <http://www.nhs.uk/Conditions/Physiotherapy/Pages/How-does-it-work.aspx>.

[2] “Rheumatology.” Therapeutic Ultrasound in Soft Tissue Lesions. N.p., n.d. Web. 7 May 2014. <http://rheumatology.oxfordjournals.org/content/40/12/1331.full>.

[3] “Ultrasound in Physiotherapy.” Ultrasound in Physiotherapy. N.p., n.d. Web. 7 May 2014. <http://www.greatlakes-physiotherapy.com/physiotherapy-ultrasound.html>.

[4] “Does Ultrasound Work?” SaveYourselfca RSS. N.p., n.d. Web. 7 May 2014. <http://saveyourself.ca/articles/ultrasound.php>.

[5] Wikipedia. Wikimedia Foundation, n.d. Web. 7 May 2014. <http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Therapeutic_ultrasound#Physical_therapy>.

[6] “Ultrasound.” Wikipedia. Wikimedia Foundation, n.d. Web. 7 May 2014. <http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ultrasound>.

[7] “Ultrasound.” Pass My Exams. N.p., n.d. Web. 7 May 2014. <http://www.passmyexams.co.uk/GCSE/physics/ultrasound.html>.

[8] BBC News. BBC, n.d. Web. 7 May 2014. <http://www.bbc.co.uk/schools/gcsebitesize/science/add_gateway_pre_2011/radiation/ultrasoundrev2.shtml>.

[9] BBC News. BBC, n.d. Web. 7 May 2014. <http://www.bbc.co.uk/schools/gcsebitesize/science/triple_aqa/medical_applications_physics/ultrasound/revision/1/>.

[10] BBC News. BBC, n.d. Web. 7 May 2014. <http://www.bbc.co.uk/schools/gcsebitesize/science/edexcel_pre_2011/waves/soundultrasoundandseismicwavesrev2.shtml>.

[11] BBC News. BBC, n.d. Web. 7 May 2014. <http://www.bbc.co.uk/schools/gcsebitesize/science/add_ocr_gateway/radiation/ultrasoundrev3.shtml>.

[12] “Ultrasound.” Ultrasound. N.p., n.d. Web. 7 May 2014. <http://www.cyberphysics.co.uk/topics/waves/ultrasound.htm>.

[13] “What Is Fetal Imaging and Pre-Natal Scanning?” What Are the Uses of Ultrasound? N.p., n.d. Web. 7 May 2014. <http://www.gcsescience.com/pwav14.htm>.

[14] “Uses of Sound Waves.” GCSE Physics Uses of Waves Revision. N.p., n.d. Web. 7 May 2014. <http://www.s-cool.co.uk/gcse/physics/uses-of-waves/revise-it/uses-of-sound-waves>.

[15] “Ultrasound.” Revision World. N.p., n.d. Web. 7 May 2014. <http://www.revisionworld.com/gcse-revision/physics/waves/ultrasound>.

[16] “Ultrasound Technology and Its Social Impact.” Yahoo Contributor Network. N.p., n.d. Web. 7 May 2014. <http://voices.yahoo.com/ultrasound-technology-its-social-impact-6812902.html>.

[17] “Ultrasound’s Risk: Reproductive Autonomy and Epistemic Moral Injury.”Scholarship@Western. N.p., n.d. Web. 7 May 2014. <http://ir.lib.uwo.ca/iaph/June27/Presentations/5/>.

[18] “Female Feticide –ethical Issues of Ultrasound in India and China.” Why Is American Health Care so Expensive? N.p., n.d. Web. 7 May 2014. <http://whyisamericanhealthcaresoexpensive.blogspot.co.at/2013/03/female-feticide-ethical-issues-of.html>.

[19] “BCF Technology.” Economic Benefits of Ultrasound. N.p., n.d. Web. 7 May 2014. <http://www.international.bcftechnology.com/learning/farm-animal/clinical-resources/economic-benefits-of-ultrasound>

[20] “Benefits of the Use of Ultrasound in Physical Therapy.” LIVESTRONG.COM. LIVESTRONG.COM, 7 July 2010. Web. 7 May 2014. <http://www.livestrong.com/article/172706-benefits-of-the-use-of-ultrasound-in-physical-therapy/>.

[21] “Ultrasound Therapy.” For Treatment of Sports Injuries. N.p., n.d. Web. 7 May 2014. <http://www.sportsinjuryclinic.net/treatments-therapies/electrotherapy/ultrasound-therapy>.

[22] Powers, Julie. “Risks From Ultrasound Therapy.” EHow. Demand Media, 29 Oct. 2009. Web. 7 May 2014. <http://www.ehow.com/about_5589797_risks-ultrasound-therapy.html>.

[23] Hall, Harriet. “Are Prenatal Ultrasounds Dangerous?” Science-Based Medicine. N.p., 30 Aug. 2011. Web. 9 May 2014. <http://www.sciencebasedmedicine.org/are-prenatal-ultrasounds-dangerous/>.



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