Seeing your muscles flex during therapy – using ultrasound imaging as biofeedback

February 18, 2018

Ever wish you could see inside your body to know how things are working?  Thanks to a new idea, it is now possible and has been found to be extremely useful. Stroke patients can now actually see their muscles contract and relax during therapy. Strokemark encountered this exciting new technique in a private clinic in the Netherlands. Using ultrasound imaging, stroke patients literally see their muscles move while they perform a movement. As a result of receiving this type of real-time feedback, patients become more aware of their muscle movements.


Erik Eurelings, a physical therapist who specializes in ultrasound imaging, explained the background of this technique to us. It originated for the training of lower back muscles that are important for stabilization to relieve pain in the lower back area. Patients have a hard time feeling these muscles and activating them in the right way, so he makes them visible with the help of ultrasound. Patients then see the muscle moving and can notice when they activate it in the right way. This form of feedback greatly enhances the efficacy of the treatment, since the patient can really focus on exercising the right muscle.


Ultrasound imaging in stroke rehabilitation

This same procedure can be used for stroke rehabilitation.  Many patients have difficulty feeling their affected muscles contract. Which, in turn, makes it hard to know and feel how to activate the right ones. Providing patients with an image of what is going on inside their bodies gives them a clear picture of how the muscles are reacting.  Especially when muscle activity is really low,  this new technique can be beneficial.

An ultrasound video showing different abdominal muscles flexing. Patients receive immediate feedback from images like this and can see even the smallest changes in muscle movements. 

Erik showed us the procedure in practice. A gel is applied to an ultrasound sensor like the ones used during pregnancy. He then puts the sensor on the muscle he wants to see and shows the image on a large screen to the patient. The patient sees even the smallest activation of the muscle. Increasing awareness allows patients to train muscles they could not feel or train before, but this technique also increases their motivation. It is exciting to see when a muscle contracts. It also adds credibility to the difficult process of regaining muscle function.  Patients can see their progress, so they know their therapy is working.


 How can I get this therapy?

More and more physical therapists are trained in ultrasound imaging for diagnostic purposes. They have a good knowledge of muscle anatomy and could use this technique as a training tool for patients. Ask your therapist if he can offer this to you, or contact us so we can find a therapist near you who offers ultrasound imaging.

Editorial note:

Some therapies are developed by therapists themselves before they enter the world of scientific research. Ultrasound feedback is such a technique.

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