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The effect of continuous ultrasound on chronic non-specific low back pain: a single blind placebo-controlled randomized trial

Safoora Ebadi1*, Noureddin Nakhostin Ansari1, Soofia Naghdi1, Shohre Jalaei1, Mirmostafa Sadat2, Hosein Bagheri1, Maurits W vanTulder3, Nicholas Henschke4 and Ehsan Fallah5

Author affiliations

1 Department of physiotherapy, School of Rehabilitation, Tehran University of Medical Sciences, Shahnazari St, Tehran, Iran

2 Sina Hospital, Medical Faculty, Tehran University of Medical Sciences, Hasanabad St, Tehran, Iran

3 Department of Health Sciences, VU University, De Boelelaan, Amsterdam, The Netherlands

4 Musculoskeletal Division NHMRC Postdoctoral Fellow, The George Institute for Global Health, Kent St, Sydney, Australia

5 Emam Reza hospital, Medical Faculty, Army University of Medical sciences of the I.R.Iran, Etemadzade St., Tehran, Iran

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Citation and License

BMC Musculoskeletal Disorders 2012, 13:192  doi:10.1186/1471-2474-13-192

Published: 2 October 2012



Non-specific chronic low back pain (NSCLBP) is one of the most common musculoskeletal disorders around the world including Iran. One of the most widely used modalities in the field of physiotherapy is therapeutic ultrasound (US). Despite its common use, there is still inconclusive evidence to support its effectiveness in patients with NSCLBP. The objective of this study was to evaluate the effect of continuous US compared with placebo US additional to exercise therapy for patients with NSCLBP.


In this single blind placebo controlled study, 50 patients with NSCLBP were randomized into two treatment groups: 1) continuous US (1 MHz &1.5 W/cm2) plus exercise 2) placebo US plus exercise. Patients received treatments for 4 weeks, 10 treatment sessions, 3 times per week, every other day. Treatment effects were assessed in terms of primary outcome measures: 1) functional disability, measured by Functional Rating Index, and 2) global pain, measured by a visual analog scale. Secondary outcome measures were lumbar flexion and extension range of motion (ROM), endurance time and rate of decline in median frequency of electromyography spectrum during a Biering Sorensen test. All outcome variables were measured before, after treatment, and after one-month follow-up. An intention to treat analysis was performed. Main effects of Time and Group as well as their interaction effect on outcome measures were investigated using repeated measure ANOVA.


Analysis showed that both groups had improved regarding function (FRI) and global pain (VAS) (P < .001). Lumbar ROM as well as holding time during the Sorensen test and median frequency slope of all measured paravertebral muscles did not change significantly in either group (P > .05). Improvement in function and lumbar ROM as well as endurance time were significantly greater in the group receiving continuous US (P < .05).


The study showed that adding continuous US to a semi supervised exercise program significantly improved function, lumbar ROM and endurance time. Further studies including a third group of only exercise and no US can establish the possible effects of placebo US.

Trial registration


Low back pain; Ultrasound; Functional disability; Pain; Muscle endurance; Range of motion