Ultrasound can speed the healing of fractures, according to results of a randomized, controlled trial published in BMC Musculoskeletal Disorders.

The researchers found that the use of low-intensity pulsed ultrasound (LIPUS) in patients with tibial fractures which showed inadequate progress toward healing resulted in 34% greater bone mineral density (BMD) in the fracture area after 16 weeks than use of a sham device.

Jon E. Block, Ph.D. worked with a team of researchers from University Hospital Marburg and the University of Ulm, Germany, to test LIPUS in 51 patients and 50 controls.

The LIPUS device comprises a handheld control unit attached by wire to a small ultrasound emitter, which is placed over the fracture site for 20 minutes per day. Patients in this study had all sustained a tibial shaft fracture that subsequently showed inadequate progress toward healing and were randomized to receive either a functional or non-functional device.

The estimated increase in BMD among subjects randomized to active LIPUS treatment was 34% larger.

According to Block, “This is the first study to offer Level-I evidence of this effect in a single fracture type”.

Their research was supported by Smith and Nephew, a manufacturer of ultrasound devices who hires Block as a consultant.    “These findings demonstrate significantly greater progress toward bone healing after LIPUS treatment compared to no LIPUS treatment in subjects with established delayed unions of the tibia. This should assist in establishing this non-invasive modality as a viable, effective treatment option for patients suffering these injuries.”

Markus D Schofer, Jon E Block, Julia Aigner and Andreas Schmelz, 'Improved healing response in delayed unions of the tibia with low-intensity pulsed ultrasound: results of a randomized sham-controlled trial', BMC Musculoskeletal Disorders (in press)