Physical therapy: Radiation, ultrasound, magnetic therapy, balneotherapy

What is physical therapy?

We call physical therapy to all those which use physical media (radiations, heat, cold, etc.) to perform its therapeutic action. Within physical therapies we can consider different sections:

applications of physical therapy

  • Therapy with non-ionizing radiation (which do not exert direct damage to cells, as if it can do ionizing radiation: among others, ultraviolet rays, X-rays, gamma rays), which are mainly: infrared, microwave, and laser
  • Therapy with pressure waves (ultrasonic)
  • Electrotherapy
  • Magnet therapy, and
  • Hydrotherapy.

The means of the physical therapies

The means employed by each of the different therapies described are different but the intended effect in many of them is common:

Non-ionizing radiation: Within this group we find the laser-therapy, which uses visible light in the form of a laser, waves of greater wavelength of invisible light, infrared, and those that are more below even the spectrum lighting, which are microwaves. All these forms of radiation projected heat on the skin and a few millimeters in depth when applied in certain intensity on the skin surface.

Ultrasounds: There are not audible sounds that generate a pressure on the soft textiles and produce with it also local heat.

Electrotherapy (short wave): It is based on the use of electrical currents of low frequency therefore do not cause pain or cramping sensation, and getting generate heat in the soft tissues on which these are applied.

Magnet therapy: It is the application of magnetic fields on a particular part of the body. The basis of this type of therapy is to give to the magnetism a healing power.

Hydrotherapy: This section enters the balneotherapy or spa (salus per aquam) mainly, with all its variations and possible modalities (hot springs, salt water with sulfur-iodine bromide, sludge, water physiotherapy, etc.)

Applications of physical therapy

The uses of these therapies are primarily as complementary methods of rehabilitation in incapacitating processes, such as certain chronic and acute rheumatic diseases (for example the rheumatoid arthritis or osteoarthritis) or neurological (amyotrophic lateral sclerosis, hemiplegia, multiple sclerosis, etc).

Another fundamental use is the relief from painful processes, mainly trauma, but also as a means of relieving muscle spasms. Hydrotherapy is very specifically used in rhinitis (nasal catarrh), phlebitis (superficial venous inflammation), lymphangitis (inflammation of lymph vessels) and also as a method of relaxation and stress relief. Other possible uses of physical therapies are certain skin conditions or neuritis (inflammation of a nerve). Special mention is deserved by the magnetic therapy, which, apart from the already mentioned uses, it is also used in order to accelerate welding of bone fractures or healing skin wounds.

How secure are the physical therapies?

Physical therapies are very safe if applied by expert physical therapy center and at the right times. The main complication that can give such therapies, except the non-thermal hydrotherapy is the appearance of burns, but this is really exceptional if the means used are appropriate and no errors in the calculation of the intensity, as distance, time and surface exposure. Hydrotherapy carries the same risk that common sense can deduct any person in connection with the bathroom (trauma by slips and falls as well as drowning, obviously).

Is it a way of really effective therapy?

Physical therapies have clearly demonstrated their effectiveness in relieving pain in joints and traumatic processes especially in muscle structures from the third day of the beginning of the process, mainly for the mere benefit of heat.

It is not advisable to use these local heat generation therapies in the acute phase of trauma for example, where the local application of cold is best recommended. They have also proved useful in certain specific diseases, such as rheumatoid arthritis, osteoarthritis or spastic diseases.

Regarding magnet therapy, clinical trials that try to reveal its real effectiveness in the treatment of certain diseases are very rare. Proponents of magnet therapy as single treatment method argue that it is able to relieve pain or accelerate the welding of fractured bones or wound healing, something does seem consistent, but not sufficiently demonstrated in the light of the results obtained by the different studies.

Other hypothetical benefits of magnet therapy are derived from certain effects that are attributed to this type of therapy such as immunomodulation (possible advantage in medicine of organ transplant), relieving ischemia (suffering from tissue due to lack of irrigation blood; possible advantage in myocardial infarction or cerebral vascular crisis) regeneration of neurons (potential benefits in the treatment of degenerative or traumatic neuropathies) or control biology of tumor cells (advantage in cancer treatment).