Therapeutic Ultrasound for Horses

Updated March 29, 2024 | By: Andris J. Kaneps, DVM, PhD, DACVS, DACVSR
Therapeutic ultrasound being performed on a soft tissue injury in a horse's front leg.
Therapeutic ultrasound being used to treat a soft tissue injury. Photo courtesy of Dr. Andy Kaneps.

Besides its popularly known uses in diagnosing a ligament injury or monitoring a mare in foal, ultrasound can be used as a therapeutic treatment for people and animals. Therapeutic ultrasound is the use of high-frequency sound waves (beyond our ears’ potential for hearing) which penetrate the tissue and cause thermal and acoustic effects.

Therapeutic ultrasound can heat tendon and ligament tissues without raising the temperature of the horse’s skin at the surface. These thermal effects increase the metabolism of tissues, which works to promote healing and improve tissue elasticity (allowing for more beneficial stretching). In the horse, deep heating of muscles does not occur as it does in dogs or humans.

How Therapeutic Ultrasound Works on Horses

The sound waves cause mechanical vibrations that the body then absorbs. These vibrations can actually micro-massage at a cellular level.

One of the most beneficial non-thermal, mechanical effects is called cavitation. Cavitation is when the vibrations form “microbubbles.” These microbubbles then vibrate inside of the interstitial fluids (the fluid that fills spaces between cells). This is called “stable cavitation,” and causes two bonus effects:

  1. Acoustical streaming – helps tissue fluids move along cell walls and increases the cell’s permeability and metabolic activity.
  2. Microstreaming – when currents are formed around the cavitation bubbles. The currents cause the cells and their internal organelles to move.

These microscopic effects can enhance the cell’s metabolic activity and ability to repair itself.

Benefits of Therapeutic Ultrasound for Horses

  • Stimulates cellular repair and collagen synthesis
  • Reduces pain, edema, and muscle spasms
  • Increases tissue elasticity and circulation

How Therapeutic Ultrasound is Used on Horses

  • Administered by a veterinarian or trained technician
  • Similar to shockwave treatment, however, ultrasound is less intense and does not require the horse to be sedated

Examples of When Therapeutic Ultrasound is Used on Horses

  • To increase the range of motion of targeted joints
  • Treating splints, osteoarthritis, and other bone conditions
  • Reduce scar tissue

The information provided in the Horsemanship Library is based solely on our SmartPak authors' opinions. SmartPak strongly encourages you to consult your veterinarian or equine professionals regarding specific questions about your horse's health, care, or training. This information is not intended to diagnose, treat or cure any disease or behavior and is purely educational.