What is Vibration Therapy?

In 1867, Russian physician and inventor Gustav Zander developed a series of machines that utilized systems of weights and pulleys to create the sense of vibration. The purpose of the apparatus was therapeutic, and in 1895, Dr. John Harvey Kellogg implemented vibration therapy in his health practice. With a vibrating chair he developed himself, he claimed the therapy was good for circulation and could also alleviate constipation.

During the Russian space program, physicians noticed that the returning astronauts suffered from loss of bone mass and bone fractures at a much earlier age than was normal. They began to use whole body vibration devices to help strengthen astronauts’ bone mass and muscles. Today, NASA uses vibration therapy to help prevent muscle loss in astronauts.

Vibration Therapy in Practice

To get the benefits of whole body vibration therapy, you may stand, sit, or lay on a machine supported by a vibrating platform. One common form that can improve muscle soreness requires staying in a half-squat position with knees bent at 100 degrees for 60 seconds. This is intended to trick the body into thinking it’s falling, producing rapid muscle contractions.

Vibration therapy can also be used on localized areas of your body. During this type of therapy, the practitioner will use a hand-held vibrating device. This can be placed on different parts of your body, such as the calf or thigh muscles.

How Vibration Therapy Works

Vibration machines work on the principles of frequency and amplitude, which may be adjusted to suit your specific needs. In whole body vibration therapy, as the platform generates vibrations, they are transmitted to your body. The direction and intensity of the vibrations is what makes them effective or not.

Some machines produce only vertical vibrations, whereas others produce vibrations up and down, front and back, and sideways. Up and down vibrations are believed to be most effective for producing rapid muscle contractions. Localized vibration therapy has a similar stimulating effect on small groups of muscles.

With regards to improvement of bone density, it has been suggested that vibration therapy may induce nuclei inside the cells to trigger the release of osteoblasts, which are needed to build bone.

Possible Health Benefits

Advocates of vibration therapy claim that both whole body and localized therapy have a wide range of health benefits, including

  • improving bone density
  • increasing muscle mass
  • improving circulation
  • reducing joint pain
  • reducing back pain
  • alleviating stress
  • boosting metabolism

What’s the Evidence?

Only a few medical studies have been conducted on vibration therapy. It has been shown to have some minimal health benefits.

Parkinson’s Disease

A 2009 study showed that vibration therapy could have short-term beneficial effects on motor impairment caused by Parkinson’s disease, including a decrease in tremor and rigidity.

Bone Density

A 2011 study revealed that vibration therapy did not improve bone density in older adults, but it may improve leg muscle strength in adults who are unable to exercise.

Multiple Sclerosis

A small pilot study showed that vibration therapy might help improve muscle force and performance in children with this disorder.

Health Warnings

Vibration therapy may be dangerous if the intensity of the vibrations is too high. This can cause lumbar injuries and severe back pain. You should not use vibration therapy without first consulting your physician if you have any of the following conditions:

  • You are taking blood thinning medications.
  • You have advanced diabetes.
  • You have heart disease.
  • You are pregnant.

Vibration therapy may have some beneficial effects for a hand full of disorders. It may also be of value for older people who are unable to exercise regularly. More research is needed to assess whether it can help increase bone density.