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BACKGROUND: The morbidity and socioeconomic costs of fractures are considerable. The length of time to healing is an important factor in determining a person's recovery after a fracture. Ultrasound may have a therapeutic role in reducing the time to union after fracture. This is an update of a review previously published in February 2012. OBJECTIVES: To assess the effects of low-intensity ultrasound (LIPUS), high-intensity focused ultrasound (HIFUS) and extracorporeal shockwave therapies (ECSW) as part of the treatment of acute fractures in adults. SEARCH METHODS: We searched the Cochrane Bone, Joint and Muscle Trauma Group Specialised Register (2 June 2014), the Cochrane Central Register of Controlled Trials (The Cochrane Library 2014, Issue 5), MEDLINE (1946 to May Week 3 2014), EMBASE (1980 to 2014 Week 22), trial registers and reference lists of articles. SELECTION CRITERIA: Randomised and quasi-randomised controlled trials evaluating ultrasound treatment in the management of acute fractures in adults. Studies had to include participants over 18 years of age with acute fractures, reporting outcomes such as function; time to union; non-union; secondary procedures such as for fixation or delayed union or non-union; adverse effects; pain; costs; and patient adherence. DATA COLLECTION AND ANALYSIS: Two authors independently extracted data from the included studies. Treatment effects were assessed using mean differences, standardised mean differences or risk ratios using a fixed-effect model, except where there was substantial heterogeneity, when data were pooled using a random-effects model. Results from 'worst case' analyses, which gave more conservative estimates of treatment effects for time to fracture union, are reported in preference to those from 'as reported' analyses. MAIN RESULTS: We included 12 studies, involving 622 participants with 648 fractures. Eight studies were randomised placebo-controlled trials, two were randomised controlled trials without placebo controls, one was a quasi-randomised placebo-controlled trial and one was a quasi-randomised controlled trial without placebo control. Eleven trials tested LIPUS and one trial tested ECSW. Four trials included participants with conservatively treated upper limb complete fractures and six trials included participants with lower limb complete fractures; these were surgically fixed in four trials. The remaining two trials reported results for conservatively treated tibial stress fractures.'Risk of bias' assessment of the included studies was hampered by the poor reporting of methods, frequently resulting in the risk of bias of individual domains being judged as 'unclear'. Both quasi-randomised studies were at high risk of bias, including selection and attrition bias. Three studies were at low risk of selection bias relating to allocation concealment the majority of studies were at low risk of performance bias as they employed a form of intervention blinding.Only limited data were available from three of only four studies reporting on functional outcome. One study of complete fractures found little evidence of a difference between the two groups in the time to return to work (mean difference (MD) 1.95 days favouring control, 95% confidence interval (CI) -2.18 to 6.08; 101 participants). Pooled data from two studies found LIPUS did not significantly affect the time to return to training or duty in soldiers or midshipmen with stress fractures (MD -8.55 days, 95% CI -22.71 to 5.61; 93 participants).We adopted a conservative strategy for data analysis that was more likely to underestimate than to overestimate a benefit of the intervention. After pooling results from eight studies (446 fractures), the data showed no statistically significant reduction in time to union of complete fractures treated with LIPUS (standardised mean difference (SMD) -0.47, 95% CI -1.14 to 0.20). This result could include a clinically important benefit or harm, and should be seen in the context of the highly significant statistical heterogeneity (I² = 90%). This heterogeneity was not explained by the a priori subgroup analyses (upper limb versus lower limb fracture, smoking status). An additional subgroup analysis comparing conservatively and operatively treated fractures raised the possibility that LIPUS may be effective in reducing healing time in conservatively managed fractures, but the test for subgroup differences did not confirm a significant difference between the subgroups.Pooled results from five of the eight trials (333 fractures) reporting proportion of delayed union or non-union showed no significant difference between LIPUS and control (10/168 versus 13/165; RR 0.75; 95% CI 0.24 to 2.28). Adverse effects directly associated with LIPUS and associated devices were found to be few and minor, and compliance with treatment was generally good. One study reporting on pain scores found no difference between groups at eight weeks (101 participants).One quasi-randomised study found no significant difference in non-union at 12 months between internal fixation supplemented with ECSW and internal fixation alone (3/27 versus 6/30; RR 0.56, 95% CI 0.15 to 2.01). There was a clinically small but statistically significant difference in the visual analogue scores for pain in favour of ECSW at three month follow-up (MD -0.80, 95% CI -1.23 to -0.37). The only reported complication was infection, with no significant difference between the two groups. AUTHORS' CONCLUSIONS: While a potential benefit of ultrasound for the treatment of acute fractures in adults cannot be ruled out, the currently available evidence from a set of clinically heterogeneous trials is insufficient to support the routine use of this intervention in clinical practice. Future trials should record functional outcomes and follow-up all trial participants.

Original publication




Journal article


Cochrane Database Syst Rev

Publication Date



Adult, Arm Injuries, Fracture Fixation, Fracture Healing, Fractures, Bone, Fractures, Stress, Fractures, Ununited, Humans, Leg Injuries, Randomized Controlled Trials as Topic, Time Factors, Ultrasonic Therapy