In 1867, Russian physician and inventor Gustav Zander developed an apparatus that used weights and pulleys to create a sense of vibration. Its purpose was therapeutic. In 1895, Dr. John Harvey Kellogg implemented vibration therapy in his health practice. Using a vibrating chair he developed himself, he claimed it could help improve circulation and alleviate constipation.
During the Russian space program, doctors found that astronauts suffered from bone loss and fractures at a much younger age than normal. They began to use vibration therapy to help strengthen astronauts’ bone mass and muscles. Today, NASA continues to use vibration therapy to help prevent bone loss.
How does vibration therapy work?
There are two main types of vibration therapy: whole-body and localized.
During whole-body vibration therapy, your therapist will ask you to stand, sit, or lay on a machine supported by a vibrating platform. For example, they may ask you to stand in a half-squat position with your knees bent.
During localized vibration therapy, your therapist will place a hand-held vibrating device on certain parts of your body. For example, they may place it on your calf or thigh muscles.
When the vibrations are transmitted to your body, they cause your muscles to contract and relax. Certain types of vibrations may also cause your body to produce more osteoblasts. These are cells that produce bone.
The direction and intensity of vibrations may determine how well vibration therapy works. Some machines produce only vertical vibrations. Others produce vibrations that go up and down, front and back, and sideways. Up and down vibrations are believed to be the most effective for producing rapid muscle contractions.
What are the health benefits of vibration therapy?
Advocates claim that whole-body and localized vibration therapy have a range of health benefits. For example, some people claim vibration therapy can help:
- increase bone density
- increase muscle mass
- improve circulation
- reduce joint pain
- reduce back pain
- alleviate stress
- boost metabolism
Bone density and muscle strength
An article published in the journal Clinical Rehabilitation reviewed the research on vibration therapy’s effects on muscle strength and bone mass. The authors found evidence that vibration therapy can help improve leg muscle strength in older adults. They found no significant evidence that it improves bone density in older adults.
More recent research described in Current Osteoporosis Reports and Current Opinion in Endocrinology, Diabetes, and Obesity has been more promising. The findings suggest that vibration therapy may help stimulate bone formation and improve bone strength. The intensity of vibrations may affect whether or not it’s effective. More studies are needed.
According to research published in the Journal of Athletic Training, whole-body vibration therapy may help prevent muscle soreness after exercise. The authors note that more research is needed.
A study reported in NeuroRehabilitation suggests that vibration therapy may have short-term benefits for people with Parkinson’s disease. For example, it may help decrease muscle tremors and rigidity. More research is needed to assess the long-term effects.