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mastitis treatment | mastitis ultrasound

What is Mastitis Ultrasound?

Mastitis ultrasound treatment is for the inflammatory fluid & congestion of mastitis. It is also used in clinic to reduce the blockage in the case of blocked ducts. We’ve been using mastitis ultrasound treatment for many years becasue of the impact it can have on pain, redness & swelling. But it definitely has its limitations which can be addressed with hands-on massage techniques focused on how the breast tissue functions. So don’t be swayed thinking ultrasound is the be all and end all for mastitis. 

In our experience ultrasound is a wonderful tissue primer (preparer of the tissue) for manual therapy massage techniques to drain the fluid of mastitis away.  And just for the record, we are not talking about milk. Mastitis congestion (lumps/lumpiness) is not milk but is actually leaked fluids outside your breast ducts and milk-making sacs into surrounding connective tissues. It begins with milk and inflammatory fluids leaking, but is eventually an inflammatory process that creates swelling of fluid in the breast and all the other nasty symptoms that come with a bout of mastitis.

Unfortunately we find that mastitis ultrasound with many other practitioners, is the only treatment approach they will use and there is far more to treating breast tissue than that. Take a look at this article we wrote titled Why you Shouldn’t Settle for Mastitis Treatment that is Just Ultrasound.

So what actually is Ultrasound?

Many people think ultrasound is a mechanical energy that vibrates at increasing frequencies creating sound energy.

Humans can hear in a specific sound range (16hZ to 15-20kHZ), AND beyond this limit the mechanical vibration is known as ultrasound. So you cannot hear it at all.

How does ultrasound work?

The main focus of ultrasound is the vibration of the tissues and this is considered non-thermal (non-heat producing), however there will be a thermal (heat) component due to the vibration energy being produced.

Ultrasound occurs in waves (see diagram below). Tiny particles in the tissue being focused on will wiggle around a fixed point when exposed to the ultrasound wave, rather then move in a wave themselves

Any increase in the vibration in that tissue may produce heat as we’ve mentioned, although most ultrasound usage doesn’t focus on this outcome of heat, and more around mobilising substances in tissues.

mastitis ultrasound | ultrasound treatment for mastitis

How does ultrasound work?

So with regard to frequency, the sound wave creates compression, so pushing particles together increasing density, and rarefaction which is moving them apart and decreasing the density. You can see it here in this diagram above.

There are ultrasound devices that have different wavelengths that are more suitable for different purposes and depths of tissue. Our machines are 1 and 3 MHz machines.

A 1MHz wavelength is 1.5mm and more suited to deeper tissues and a 3MHz wavelength is 0.5mm and more suited to superficial (more shallow) tissues

What does Therapeutic Ultrasound do?

There are 2 categories of effects of ultrasound…

So one effect is thermal. If the tissue temp is raised to 40-45 degrees centigrade, there is an increase in blood flow will occur which is therapeutic to the tissues. The reason the increase in blood flow occurs is to cool the body tissue back down again.

Then there are the non-thermal (non-heat) ultrasoundeffects of which there are 2.

  1. The first being cavitation which is basically the formation of gas filled voids with the tissue and body fluids
  2. The second non-thermal effect is acoustic streaming which is swirling of fluids near a vibrating structure which is known to affect fluid movement and it’s passage in and out of your cells.

Ultrasound effect in water

You can see the effect of ultrasound in water here, the bubbles swirling. It’s a simple example to show you the effect on fluid in your body.

Mechanical & Thermal Effects of Mastitis Ultrasound

So let’s take a look at the Mechanical changes and this occurs when the ultrasound is set to a pulsed (on/off or intermittent) mode. Its effect is associated with accelerated healing of tissue, and the response in the tissue is the potential to improve the milk flow and heal mastitis affected tissues

With regard to the thermal changes, this is when the Mode is a set to 100% or continuous. The effect is an increase in ultrasound absorption into the tissue creating a local heat response, and the response in the tissue is the potential to increase fluid flow, so milk, blood and lymph.

Gooey Gel time!

You need a conduction medium with ultrasound. Most people would just use the gel. Its got all the qualities you need in that it fills the air space between the skin and the ultrasound wand head, it’s fluid & it’s viscous so doesn’t run away like water would.  It also has less disturbance to the ultrasound waves with minimal absorption of the wave also.

ultrasound gel |therapeutic ultrasound |mastitis ultrasound therapy

Ultrasound cautions

The obvious things are metal in the area which could be pacemakers in the chest region, malignancies and then bleeding disorders in tissues that are bleeding.  This is less likely in the breast conditions that we are treating, mastitis, blocked ducts & engorgement, as bleeding is not part of the issues with these conditions.

You also want someone experienced with ultrasound treating you.  In terms of precautions, the head must be kept moving otherwise the ultrasound energy builds up in that one area and that may cause tissue damage.

ultrasound for mastitis | ultrasound treatment for mastitis | mastitis ultrasound

What does mastitis ultrasound feel like?

Actually not much at all. Ultrasound therapy is working on the tissue at a cellular (super small) level and so you actually don’t feel the vibrations occur. You may feel some gentle warmth coming from the head of the ultrasound wand, and the wand is moved gently over the skin with little compression of the tissue underneath.

How long do you do the ultrasound for?

Typically, ultrasound for mastitis is used for 3-6 minutes over the mastitis affected area. Some practitioners have used it for much longer, even 20m minutes duration but we have not found this to be a useful use of consultation time. Ultrasound is a great additional tool for mastitis treatment but hands-on manual therapy is our go-to for treatment after short bursts of ultrasound.

Is this different to the pregnancy ultrasound that shows you the pictures?

Yes absolutely! The ultrasound unit used for pregnancy is called a diagnostic ultrasound. The ultrasound waves enter the tissues and bounce back at varying rates dependent on how dense the underlying tissue is. It’s these differences in density that produce the picture on the screen.

Do we do mastitis ultrasound in our clinic?

We love using ultrasound therapy to treat mastitis. It has been a wonderful tool to add to our hands-on therapy.

Is mastitis ultrasound effective?

We have found it effective for treating mastitis. At times it has greatly reduced the inflammation (redness) of the skin and women report that it can reduce the tenderness of the underlying breast tissue affected by mastitis.

Do I need mastitis ultrasound?

No it is not an essential treatment. Mastitis will run its course (much like a cold virus does). The ultrasound may help you improve your symptoms, but once again it is not a treatment tool we use in isolation because it is not able to drain the fluid congestion of mastitis away through the natural drainage channels of the lymphatics system. That’s why we use hands-on therapy to support the ultrasound treatment for mastitis.

Can you detect a breast abscess with therapeutic ultrasound?

No. A breast abscess is detected with diagnostic ultrasound (the same as the pregnancy ultrasound pictures). Our practitioners however, have such sensitive hands and heads full of knowledge about the breast that we commonly identify abscess by feel and talking to the client about what has been going on with their case. With then refer to the GP or ED for a diagnostic (picture) ultrasound.


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