Benefits of Vibration Therapy. Many health trends come and go, but some actually prove to be worth the hype surrounding them. This is the case of a just emerging health and fitness technique known as vibration therapy (also called whole body vibration).
Like so many other holistic practices, vibration therapy is new— but also not new. The benefits are now becoming available to the “general public”, but vibrations have been used for a century or two for health purposes and have their roots in ancient healing practices.
Whether you’ve heard of this “new” therapy or not, here’s a closer look at what it is and the surprising benefits it has for a very wide range of people.
What is Vibration Therapy?
Using vibrations as a therapeutic method is believed to have originated in ancient Greece.
Greek physicians used bow-like instruments with strings that could be plucked, sending out minor vibrations. They were mostly used over the wounds of soldiers as it was discovered that these vibrations helped pus to drain more quickly and stimulated healing.
Interestingly, vibration therapy doesn’t have much recorded use after ancient times until the 1800s.
Though the Russians are often credited with the modern “discovery” of whole-body vibration, it was actually a Swedish physician named Gustav Zander who developed exercise machines, including a vibration one around 1867.
Later, in 1895, Dr. John Harvey Kellogg (the one who invented flake cereal) introduced a vibrating chair to his health clinic to improve circulation and address certain ailments.
Russia came into the picture later in the 1960s when it was discovered that vibrations could be used to strengthen the bone mass and muscles of astronauts. This was a key discovery because astronauts were likely to lose bone mass and suffer fractures at a younger age due to space travel.
Fast forward to today, and vibration therapy is no longer exclusive or used only by astronauts and health clinics. In fact, it’s now available to almost anyone…
Who Can Use Vibration Therapy? + How it Works
Despite the word “therapy” in the name, whole body vibration is not something you need to go to a healthcare professional for.
Vibration plates are small, portable machines that bring vibration therapy to you. They can easily be used at home for a wide range of purposes and have also started to appear in gyms and fitness centers.
Essentially, vibration plates work by sending tiny vibrations throughout your body. You can stand on one to get a whole-body effect, or place a specific limb, muscle group, etc. on the plate for a more localized effect.
Vibration plates have become very popular with elite athletes because they add an extra dimension to training exercises. However, they are equally as beneficial for “everyday” people, particularly older adults who want to work on muscle strength or improve bone density.
To put it simply, nearly anyone can use and benefit from the power of vibrations. They can enhance a low-impact workout, give your muscles a massage, boost circulation, and much more.
Top Benefits of Vibration Therapy / Whole Body Vibration
Improves Bone Health & Density
Improving bone health is a goal for more than just astronauts. Older adults, especially women, are at risk of losing bone density, which could lead to harmful fractures down the road.
Research has revealed that whole body vibration may help prevent osteoporosis by stimulating growth hormone production. It also appears to work by regulating the activity of certain cells responsible for bone remodelling, helping to strengthen bones.
In one small study, women who used a vibration plate had an increase in lumbar bone density of 4.3% after six months. By contrast, the group that did not use a vibration plate lost 1.9% of lumbar bone density after six months.
This simple therapy is so promising that researchers have concluded it “may represent the foundation of a safe, non-drug means to protect and improve the musculoskeletal system”.
Activates Muscles & Increases Strength
Using a vibration plate is a simple way to make any kind of workout more effective (one of the reasons they are so popular with athletes).
A major reason for this is the fact that whole body vibration activates up to 138% more muscles fibers than a standard workout. This means more of your muscles are put to work in the same period of exercise, and you may be working out muscles that are typically inactive.
All of this adds up to greater gains in muscle strength without increasing workouts.
And this doesn’t only apply to elite athletes looking for an edge. One study found that using a vibration plate to complete exercises was just as effective at increasing strength and muscle mass in older men as regular fitness training.
Helps with Muscle Soreness & Recovery
Whenever you give your muscles a good workout, soreness inevitably follows. Recovery may be fairly quick for the young, but you tend to feel the soreness more (sometimes a lot more) as you get older.
This is where vibration therapy enters as a recovery tool. Not only can it help you to have a better workout, it can also help your muscles to relax and recover post-workout. Some research even shows that vibration can help prevent soreness in certain muscles.
If you are feeling sore muscles, it’s quite simple to turn a vibration plate into a massage machine. The tiny vibrations give a gentle massage that can be directed at whatever muscle group comes into contact with the plate.
You may even be able to use vibrations for other types of pain. For example, the study on whole body vibration and bone density found that chronic back pain decreased for participants as a surprising “side effect” of the therapy.
Helps Improve Flexibility & Balance (and May Prevent Falls!)
Flexibility is an often-overlooked aspect of physical fitness. It’s all about the range of motion you have and can help to prevent injuries, pulled muscles, etc.
Stretching specific muscle groups is one of the most common ways to improve flexibility and can be a very helpful practice. However, using whole body vibration as part of an exercise or stretching routine can also improve flexibility without any extra effort.
Again, this is a very helpful aspect of vibration therapy that applies to everyone from competitive athletes to older adults.
In the latter case, at least one study has shown that performing various exercises on a vibration plate— including balance and flexibility exercises— may help prevent falls in adults over 60. The researchers theorized that this was because the vibrations activated sensory receptors as well strengthened muscles.
Benefits of Vibration Therapy Burns More Fat & Calories
Losing weight is often associated with long hours spent in the gym. And while it’s true that exercise (along with diet) is essential for getting to or maintaining a healthy weight, whole body vibration offers a “shortcut” to burning fat and calories.
When you complete a workout on a vibrating surface, you are activating more muscles than you would be on a stationary surface. This means your body has to work harder, which equals improved muscle strength as we already discussed.
It also means that your body is using more energy to do the same workout, and that means more efficient fat burning.
In studies on vibration plates and weight loss, the results show that adding in vibration contributes to long-term weight loss and reduced abdominal fat more than a standard fitness program. Vibration plates also seem to be helpful for improving the results seen by older adults, including the postmenopausal women in this study.
Boosts Circulation (Including to Your Skin)
Yet another benefit of vibration therapy is that it helps improve blood circulation. And the good news is that all you have to do is use a vibration plate as a massager to get this benefit— no exercises required!
Better circulation is good for your whole body. Your blood carries oxygen and vital nutrients to cells and tissues, and good circulation means these substances are getting where they need to go efficiently.
However, improved circulation is especially good for your skin. Like the rest of your body, your skin relies on oxygen and nutrients carried through the blood to stay healthy and young-looking. If this supply gets slowed down, your skin may start looking older than it is.
Interestingly, vibration therapy has shown particularly good results for reducing the appearance of cellulite. Simply completing two exercises and two massage periods on a vibration plate led to a 25.7% reduction of cellulite in the thigh area. Not bad!
Good for Your Heart
It’s no secret that heart disease is the leading cause of death in the developed world. And one of the most significant risk factors for heart disease is high blood pressure.
Conventional exercise (particularly the aerobic kind) is an excellent way to help reduce blood pressure by strengthening your heart. However, there’s a particular aspect of heart health it often doesn’t address arterial stiffness.
Arterial stiffness refers to the stiffening of your arteries due to the loss or degradation of elastin fibers. This stiffness often precedes and contributes to high blood pressure.
Researchers from Japan made something of a breakthrough on this matter when they discovered that whole body vibration therapy could decrease arterial stiffness in young men. The research has continued and shows positive results for those at more risk of a heart attack, including obese individuals.
Of note, vibration therapy still reduced blood pressure and arterial stiffness in stroke survivors who could not engage their lower limbs. This suggests that vibration is effective even apart from any type of exercise.
Benefits of Vibration Therapy Aids Injury Recovery
As you can see, vibration therapy has numerous at-home uses. But it also shines in a clinical setting, particularly for speeding recovery from certain types of injuries.
Perhaps the biggest example of this is the positive effects whole body vibration has on those recovering from spinal cord injuries, which can be devastating. Studies have found that vibration therapy can help improve walking function, spasticity (muscle stiffness/tightness), and strength— all in those with a spinal cord injury.
Research regarding other types of injury is still limited, but there is evidence that vibration therapy can help with rehab following ACL reconstruction.
May Help Those with Parkinson’s Disease
Some exciting preliminary research has shown that vibration therapy may have benefits for certain symptoms of Parkinson’s disease.
In one study, the vibrations used came from sound waves delivered to the entire body of participants. The results showed short-term improvement in symptoms like muscle tremors and rigidity.
In a separate study, participants stood on a vibration plate and experience whole body vibration for five 1-minute periods, each separated by a 1-minute break. The results were very similar and revealed significant improvement in muscle tremors, rigidity, and overall motor score.
Though these studies were both small, they hold a lot of promise for those living with Parkinson’s. Hopefully, there will be more breakthrough findings to come!
Are There Any Risks with Vibration Therapy?
In general, vibration therapy is suitable for people of all ages and all fitness levels. However, there are a few “precautions” to take note of.
First, vibration plates often come with a warning against using them during pregnancy. That is not to say they have been proven harmful during pregnancy (they haven’t), but there isn’t clinical research documenting their safety. The best approach is to consult a healthcare professional before use if you are pregnant.
You may also want to approach certain exercises on a vibration plate with caution and consult your healthcare provider first if you have a health condition, particularly one that affects your balance.
However, whole body vibration is proving helpful for numerous health issues, including possibly even cancer, so don’t simply write it off. Instead, consult a knowledgeable practitioner (ideally a holistic one) on whether vibration therapy can help your specific condition.