Sound low sweet pain reliever

November 8, 1996

A DIY ultrasound machine has sparked medical research and development which could mean a small revolution in physiotherapy.

As a result of a chance happening, an orthopaedic surgeon at the Institute of Orthopaedics, at Stanmore, Middlesex, has developed and is now marketing equipment which generates therapeutic ultrasonic waves at significantly lower frequencies and longer wavelengths than those used normally in physiotherapy.

Brian Bradnock, senior lecturer at the institute, which is part of University College London, was alerted to the potential benefits of longer wavelengths after his friend Michael Young, an ultrasound engineer, injured his leg and built his own ultrasound device to treat the injury himself.

Mr Bradnock said: "Dr Young at this stage had no knowledge of therapeutic ultrasound and having come from an industrial background he developed the machine from first principles using his scientific knowledge of the physics of ultrasound.

"The next day he was able to walk but when he told me of the dramatic improvement I was surprised to hear that he was using approximately 50 kilohertz ultrasound. When I explained that physiotherapists use between one and three megahertz he was very surprised indeed."

Mr Bradnock and Dr Young are now marketing a new machine called Phys-assist through their company Orthosonics. The machine uses a frequency of around 50KHz which is up to 60 times slower than the one to three MHz used commonly by physiotherapists.

Crucially, the longer wavelength ultrasound penetrates human tissue more effectively, bringing benefits in terms of its usefulness in treating a whole range of ailments relating to muscle spasm.

Tests have shown that patients with back pain described their "pain scores" as reduced from an average of seven out of ten to three after three ultrasound treatments with the new machine.

Mr Bradnock and Dr Young say that their machine has already generated a great deal of interest from health service and private physiotherapists, particularly those associated with the sports world.

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