Shake If Off: The Health Benefits of Vibration Therapy

May 15, 2019

Group exercising on vibrating machines
Renée Bacher

If you've ever sat in a vibrating massage chair at one of the stores that sells them (or in a nail salon while getting a pedicure), you know firsthand about the deep relaxation that is among the benefits of vibration massage. You can feel your muscles release as the vibrations bring energy and warmth from increased circulation to the areas being massaged.

What Is Vibrational Therapy?

Whether you are sitting, standing or lying on a vibrating platform or having a health practitioner work on aching parts of your body with a hand-held vibrating massage device, Whole Body Vibration therapy (WBV) and localized vibration therapy does more than just feel good. This type of therapy can have a range of health benefits, from causing tight muscles to contract and release, to increasing blood flow to painful areas of the body. Some say vibrational therapy can interrupt pain messages traveling from various parts of the body to the brain, but more studies are needed.

What Are the Benefits of Vibration Massage?

According to an article in U.S. News & World Report, vibrational therapy has been studied to help those with neurological diseases like Parkinson's and multiple sclerosis, as well as some types of arthritis. The results, however, have been mixed. This study showed improvement in diabetic peripheral neuropathy (DPN), the most common side effect of diabetes, which results in pain and numbness in the legs, feet and hands. Some athletes have also enjoyed the benefits of vibration massage, noticing improvement in their performance in the gym or on the field.

Vibrational Therapy and Back Pain

If you have back pain caused by tight muscles, you may find this type of therapy helpful. When it comes to low back pain in particular, however, proceed with caution as seated repetitive whole-body vibration has been implicated in causing low back pain in a variety of occupations that involve sitting on vibrating machinery. This systematic review published in Physiotherapy Canada, however, suggests that those suffering from back pain may find some relief from vibrational therapy as it can activate stretch reflexes and strengthen muscles in the abdomen and lower back that support the core. Additionally, lower back pain can be associated with muscle spasms and the review says WBV at frequencies below 20 Hz can foster muscle relaxation that may reduce lower back pain.

Where Can I Get It?

Chiropractors, physical therapists and physiatrists (doctors specializing in physical medicine and rehabilitation who treat conditions involving the muscles, tendons, ligaments, joints, nerves the spinal cord and the brain) can all provide this type of therapy in their practices. Call around in your area and ask about it. You can also buy WBV machines online and in stores that sell athletic equipment like treadmills and stationary bicycles. Price varies, but they start at around $85.

What Should You Let Your Practitioner Know?

Any one with a broken bone, difficulty balancing or a blood clot should not undergo vibration therapy. If you have low back pain, think twice about seated vibration therapy and ask your doctor if it's safe for you. And if you're pregnant, always consult your obstetrician first.

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