Low-dose Ultrasound Does Not Speed Healing of Venous Leg Ulcers

March 9, 2011

ultrasound therapy does nothing to speed up the healing process of leg ulceration compared to traditional methods.

A five-year study led from the University of Leeds in the United Kingdom has shown that ultrasound therapy does nothing to speed up the healing process of leg ulceration, contrary to what had been expected. Traditional methods of nursing care, which are cheaper and easier to deliver, work just as well, the authors conclude.

“The ‘healing energy’ of low-dose ultrasound can make a difference to some medical conditions but with venous leg ulcers, this is simply not the case,” said Andrea Nelson, PhD, from the university’s School of Healthcare, who led the study.

“The key to care with this group of patients is to stimulate blood flow back up the legs to the heart. The best way to do that is with compression bandages and support stockings, not ‘magic wands,’ coupled with advice on diet and exercise,” Nelson said in a statement. “Believe it or not, having a really hearty chuckle can help too. This is because laughing gets the diaphragm moving and this plays a vital part in moving blood around the body."

Although most leg ulcers will clear up with good nursing care, a significant proportion of the lesions will take 12 months or longer to heal. The older and larger ulcers become the harder they are to get rid of, hence the search for solutions that could speed up the healing process.

A number of small studies had suggested that ultrasound could be the answer. Nelson, working with colleagues from the Universities of York and Teeside, and many National Health Service (NHS) Trusts, have now shown that this is not the case.

The researchers concentrated on “hard to heal” ulcers that had not cleared up after six months or longer. Drawing on patients from across the UK and Ireland, they found that adding ultrasound to the standard approach to care, dressings and compression therapy, made no difference to the speed of healing or the chance of the ulcers coming back. Ultrasound also raised the cost of care per patient by almost £200.

“Rising levels of obesity mean that the number of people who suffer from legs ulcers is likely to grow,” Nelson said. “We do need to find ways to helping those patients who ulcers won’t go away, but our study shows that ultrasound is not the way to do that. We need to focus on what really matters, which is good quality nursing care. There really is no need for the NHS to provide district nurses with ultrasound machines. This would not be money well spent.”