Vibration therapy has been used by medical practitioners for different health purposes since the late 1800s when Jean-Martin Charcot, M.D. reported its therapeutic benefits. It was also used by Russian astronauts to counter the effects of zero gravity on bone mass. Today, the practice is gaining popularity among athletes for quicker recovery after training and non-athletes for relief from joint pain, muscle aches, and to counter bone loss in osteoporosis patients. But what exactly is vibration therapy and what can it do for your health and are there any risks?
How does vibration therapy work?
Research has shown that when muscles are subjected to vibrations at specific frequencies, they are forced to contract and flex repeatedly without your conscious effort. These vibrations, when applied correctly and at a suitable frequency, can also stimulate bone to produce osteoblasts which are cells that build bone mass. This is the basis of the practice but it has been reported to have a wide range of therapeutic applications.
There are two types of vibration therapy: localised and whole body. For local vibration therapy, a practitioner applies vibrations to a specific part of your body using a vibrating electric device. During whole body vibration therapy, you are placed on a vibrating platform which sends vibrations through your entire body. Depending on the results you seek, you can be lying, sitting, or even in a standing position.
Results can also vary depending on the direction of these movements. Some devices can only go up and down while other can move up and down and sideways. Up and down vibrations have been found to be the most effective for inducing muscle contractions.
What are the health benefits?
Studies have yielded varying results. However, most researchers agree on certain benefits of the practice.
Muscle Mass Growth
A study by Cerciello et al pointed out several benefits of vibrations for muscle growth, repair, and muscle performance. For muscle to grow, it has to be subjected to stress through physical activity such as weightlifting and other resistance exercises. Vibration therapy engages muscles and tendons resulting in the activation of muscle fibre and more neural stimulation which leads to more muscle mass.
The practice is also used for quicker muscle recovery after heavy exercise. That is because it improves blood circulation which results in more nutrients being delivered to torn muscle fibre for repair.
Our bones are always changing. Old bone is broken down and reabsorbed and simultaneously, new bone is formed. But, sometimes, the bone mass breaks down faster than it is replaced and this leads to low bone density. Eventually, this results in osteoporosis if it is not controlled. There aren’t many medicines that stimulate bone growth. Most of the existing medication only inhibits bone reabsorption.
One of the best ways to stimulate bone growth without medication is through physical exercise such as jogging, rope skipping, and weight lifting. These activities exert stress on the skeletal system and this stimulates bone cells called osteocytes to send messages that activate other bone cells which get rid of any damaged bone and replace it with new mass. This leads to denser and stronger bone tissue.
The problem, however, is that with age, most people experience health issues such as painful joints and heart problems that make it hard to engage in exercise. This is where vibration therapy comes in as it is able to exert pressure on your muscle and bone systems without any movements on your part.
With a healthy circulatory system of blood and lymph comes more energy, faster recovery from injuries, and better performance at physical exercise. There are also fewer joint issues as well as healthier skin since it will be well-supplied with nutrients.
Exercise can keep your circulatory system healthy. The modern lifestyle, however, keeps us from being physically active on a daily basis. We are usually sitting the whole day along with eating poor diets. Sometimes, health conditions such as arthritis may make it hard for you to take part in any physical activity. You can use vibration training as an alternative to conventional exercise for better blood circulation and lymph draining. This is done in three ways:
- Increased Gravity
- Rhythmic Movement
- Muscle Reflexes
Increased gravity causes the muscles to work harder and as the muscles contract and relax, they enhance the pumping of blood throughout the body without exerting any stress on the heart. The rhythmic vibrations send pulses of movement through the soft tissue of the body. This stimulates the flow of body fluids such as lymph and blood, resulting in healthier muscle, skin, and bone.
Are there any risks?
There are a few dangers that might be associated with vibration therapy. Precaution must be taken to make sure the vibrations are not too rapid as this might result in more harm than good. Those with certain conditions are not encouraged to use vibration therapy:
People with cardiovascular problems: If you are recovering from a stroke or suffer from heart disease, the vibrations might be harmful. This also applies to anyone with blood clotting issues or deep vein thrombosis. You must first get your physician’s advice before using these vibrating machines if you have a pacemaker.
People with diabetes: Vibration machines might prove dangerous for people with advanced diabetes especially if there is hampered blood flow to the feet.
Those with orthopaedic injuries: Body vibration machines could be harmful if you have recently sprained, strained, or torn a muscle or tendon. It is not advisable for those that have undergone orthopaedic surgery. That’s because the rapid movements can cause muscle reflexes that might make the injury worse. Body stitches might also come loose when subjected to vibrations before healing. The same also applies to those that have pins, bolts, plates and fasteners in their body. The rapid vibrations might dislodge these fasteners when done without proper care.
The bottom line
Vibration therapy has lately attracted the attention of researchers and most studies conducted so far support the claimed health benefits such as relief from joint and muscle pain, better circulation, and more muscle and bone mass. It can be a great alternative for those whose medical problems cannot allow them to exercise.