MONTGOMERY, Ala. (AP) — To understand what's happening beneath the surface is at the core of physical therapy, and for students in the doctoral program at a local university, that understanding has become a little clearer.
A sophisticated ultrasound technology used in only a handful of universities nationwide is now a part of the doctor of physical therapy program at Alabama State University.
An ultrasound uses high-frequency sound waves to look at organs and other structures inside the body. The machine at ASU — its technical name is the Terason T3200 — has an enhanced image quality that allows Julian Magee, a physical therapist and an assistant professor at ASU, to read the images, instead of relying on an ultrasound diagnostician.
But its use at ASU goes beyond the diagnostic.
"Most people only think of what it can do diagnostically, looking for injuries," Magee said. "But here, we use it to re-emphasize (what the students learn) in anatomy and musculoskeletal courses."
Magee is an alumnus of the school's physical therapy program and worked in private practice after graduation. He came back in June 2011, with the idea of giving back to the program. As the liaison to the athletic department, he works with injured student-athletes and allows his students to work with them as well, to give them a broader learning experience.
The diagnostic ultrasound is an extension of that learning, Magee said, and gives the ASU students a real-world knowledge.
"There was nothing like this when I was a student," said Magee, who holds a doctor of physical therapy degree. "My professors were clinicians, but they were off campus, so there wasn't a lot that we could see."
In the school's PT lab in the modern Buskey Health Sciences building, Magee demonstrates the Terason machine, which looks like a regular laptop computer. It is very portable, allowing him to take it out of the building to do consultations. Attached to it are three transducers, or probes, which produce images across a wide range of depths when applied to the body.
The Terason looks at the musculoskeletal structures — muscles, tendons, joints, ligaments, blood vessels and soft tissues. The technique is familiar to anyone who's had an ultrasound at a doctor's office; but the software works statically as well as dynamically, so Magee can watch the muscles move.
The images can give a pretty clear picture of fractures, though X-rays are still the best for looking at bones. Anything that looks suspicious, like a tear or impacted blood flow, is referred by the department to the patient's physician for further testing.
Magee said he didn't know how much the ultrasound cost, but did say it's still an expensive technology, and for that reason many private practices don't yet use it. But the costs are starting to come down.
Besides student-athletes, Magee has found other real-world applications for the Terason. He relates the story of a man in the community who was referred to him and came in limping. Magee hooked the man up to the ultrasound and was able to confirm his suspected diagnosis: a tear of his Achilles tendon.
The main cost of such a test at a hospital would have been enormous. "But I could look at him and say, this is what I think you have going on, let's get you to a physician. Sure enough, he did, and had surgery. So seeing things like that makes you think, this is a worthwhile investment."
Using the machine in a community setting is appealing to Magee, one he hopes to see at ASU. The PT lab is used by physical therapy students, but also by those studying prosthetics and orthotics and occupational therapy. Magee said the hope is to use that collective expertise to start a clinic, which could support the underserved in Montgomery.
Magee would also like to see a future collaboration with the other universities in Montgomery — Huntingdon College's athletic training and Auburn Montgomery's exercise science programs, as two such examples, could allow for a fully functioning rehab clinic, Magee said.
"Here at ASU, my belief, and I don't know about the university, but I'm sure they would echo (this) — as we get better, we have to improve the community around us. If everyone here is pushing to get better, then I think we all get better."
Information from: Montgomery Advertiser, http://www.montgomeryadvertiser.com