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Can Ultrasound Imaging allow you to treat more patients?

Today’s contribution to the Pelvic Rehab Report comes from Allison Ariail, the instructor for Herman & Wallace’s Rehabilitative Ultrasound Imaging courses. Join Allison and others this June 12-14 at Rehabilitative Ultra Sound Imaging: Women's Health and Orthopedic Topics - Baltimore, MD!

Is an Ultrasound that provides images of the pelvic floor and other deep musculature a cool gadget to have in the office or something that is truly essential? That depends on who you are asking! If you know how to use Ultrasound imaging properly and market yourself and your practice accordingly, it can become a tool that is not only fun to have and handy to use clinically, but also essential to providing your most efficient and thorough care!

Using an ultrasound (US) machine allows you to view the deeper musculature to assess how the muscles are functioning. The most common muscles assessed with US imaging are the transverse abdominis, the multifidus, and the pelvic floor. The patient then can use what is seen on the US screen as biofeedback to retrain their strategy and timing of recruitment. The therapist can also assess the patient’s ability to activate and maintain a contraction in various positions and even during motor tasks as well. This type of biofeedback is not only useful for pelvic floor patients, but is also important for patients with back and sacroiliac joint pain. Research is showing that using this type of stabilization program is making a difference in athletes. Julie Hides has published two articles recently showing that this type of stabilization program has helped with low back pain in professional cricket players, as well as to decrease the rate of lower extremity injury in Australian professional football players. (1,2) (see my post on The Local Stabilizing Muscles and Lower Extremity Injury.

You may be saying to yourself that you can save a lot of money and just palpate the transverse abdominis (TA), and the multifidus. However I would ask you… are you really feeling a transverse abdominis contraction, or some of the internal obliques? I have had 2 patients referred to me from very capable therapists that I respect and look up to. They were referred to me due to a lack of progress in their treatment. The therapist was addressing a local stabilization program, but their back pain was not getting better. To their credit, the therapist was able to train both patients to perform a proper TA contraction in supine, however one patient was unable to hold a contraction beyond 1 second, and another one was not able to activate it in sitting, or standing. This would explain why they were not progressing with respect to their pain. After treating each patient for 1 or 2 visits using US imaging, and sending them back to their referring therapist, they made rapid progress. Both therapists were so convinced on the usefulness of US imaging that they both went out and bought a machine to use in their clinic. Additionally, you would be surprised how many physical therapists (I can’t count the number on two hands anymore) I have seen that think they are properly performing a TA contraction and want to see how they are doing on the US. However, once we used the US imaging to assess their TA contraction, they realized they were overcompensating with their internal obliques. This is with physical therapists who have more knowledge than the general public regarding the importance of these muscles and how to activate them!

If you are knowledgeable in using ultrasound imaging, you open your doors to a number of possible patients you may not be currently accessing as referrals. There are numerous women and men who would like to receive treatment for pelvic floor weakness issues, but do not want to have to disrobe each treatment. Using ultrasound imaging is a wonderful option for these patients. It also is a way to treat younger patients that you have not been able to treat in the past as well (I would recommend taking the Pediatric Incontinence and Pelvic Floor Dysfunction course prior to treating pediatric patients). By using ultrasound imaging you not only gain an edge over your competing clinics that specialize in pelvic floor therapy, but you can gain an edge for back patients and sacroiliac joint patients as well. For the reasons I stated above when discussing a stabilization program centered on the use of US imaging, you could become very busy with referrals from spine surgeons, and ortho docs. In my office we have six therapists trained in using ultrasound imaging and two ultrasound machines. One of our most limiting factors is not the lack of patients to use ultrasound on, but that we only have two US units available to use! We have several spine physicians that send all of their patients to us because they have seen the difference using ultrasound imaging and the stabilization program can make in patients’ lives. We are eagerly awaiting a third machine and know it will be immediately used and allow us to further grow our clinic.

Now you may be saying, “Yes this would be handy but the pricing makes it impossible!” I would say think outside of the box! Some machines are going down in price making them more affordable. Plus, the settings we as therapists use are pretty basic, so we do not need to purchase a unit with a lot of bells and whistles that makes it more expensive. However there are other ways to acquire a unit other than purchasing one brand new. You could look into the price of refurbished units or look to your referring physician groups that you have a good relationship with. You may be surprised to find out how much physician’s offices get for machines when they are upgrading; hardly anything! If you work for a hospital system you may be able get the old machine transferred to your department for no cost to you! Or if you work in a private practice, you could offer to match the little amount the office would get from the vendor when upgrading. I guarantee you it would not be as much as a new unit. You also might be able to share a unit with another department, office, or clinic. In the past, I have shared ultrasound units with a surgical department, and a gynecology office. I would use the ultrasound some days of the week, and they would other days of the week. It worked out well! There are a lot of possibilities of ways to acquire an ultrasound unit if you think outside of the box! It may take a little effort coordinating things in order to get an US unit, but with proper knowledge, proper marketing, and word of mouth your business will grow and you will not regret the decision to invest in your practice!

Join me to discuss more ideas of how to use US imaging to grow your practice in both clinical skill as well as business growth this June in Baltimore!

1. Hides, Stanton, Wilson et al. Retraining motor control of abdominal muscles among elite cricketers with low back pain. Scand J Med Sci Sports. 2010; 20: 834-842.
2. Hides JA, Stanton WR. Can motor control training lower the risk of injury for professional football players? Med Sci Sports Exec. 2014; 46(4): 762-8.

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