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The Pro’s and Con’s Of Whole Body Vibration Therapy

More recently, Whole Body Vibration Therapy has been investigated as:

  • An intervention for people with multiple sclerosis

  • Parkinson's disease

  • Some forms of arthritis

  • Those who are recovering from stroke

  • As well as for improving athletic performance among athletes

With a Whole Body Vibration Machine, an individual lies, sits or stands on a platform that vibrates rapidly and instantly in one or more directions. The idea is that the rapid vibrations, which are generated by a machine: "stimulate particular receptors over a muscle or tendon, and that leads to a little bit of a contraction – it's similar of a reflex pathway," explains Dr. Bruce Dobkin, a professor of neurology and director of the UCLA Neurologic Rehabilitation and Research Program at the David Geffen School of Medicine at UCLA.

As a result, the physical oscillations provide a form of passive exercise, in which something is done to a person, as opposed to the person actively engaging in an activity such as walking, cycling, swimming or weightlifting.

Even though there is some evidence that whole body vibration therapy can be beneficial for a handful of conditions, the results are mixed, and in some cases enthusiasm for the therapy is ahead of the science.

For a variety of years, there was a hope that Whole Body Vibration Therapy could help with bone loss and osteoporosis, for example.

But "it didn't pan out because the vibration is not enough of a force to remodel bone," Dobkin notes. Whether whole body vibration therapy can lead to long-term improvements for other neurological or musculoskeletal conditions remains to be seen.

One problem with the research is that Whole Body Vibration is "done in so many different types of ways with way too many parameters," Dobkin says. "There are lots of variables – different frequencies and amplitudes that can be set, how long it should be provided." What's more, in some instances whole body vibration therapy is used as a passive intervention, while in others, vibrations are used in combination with holding certain exercise-related positions like squats, thus making whole body vibration therapy a more active form of exercise.

These differences make it hard to compare one study to another or to perceive what's really creating a particular benefit, experts say.

Given all the moving parts (or parameters) within whole body vibration therapy studies, it's not surprising that their cumulative results have been equivocal.

Which Brings Up The Question: How Beneficial Is A Measurable Lab Result If It Doesn't Help the Person Function Better In Everyday Life?

Some encouraging results have been discovered with athletic training and Whole Body Vibration Therapy. Research suggests that Whole Body Vibration Therapy training can help younger athletes gain flexibility and help sedentary and older people gain muscle power and performance.

Indeed, in a 2015 study, researchers from the University of Texas–El Paso discovered that eight weeks of Whole Body Vibration Therapy training improved risk factors for falls among older adults, specifically by increasing their range of motion in the ankle joints and reducing their fear of falling.

An increasingly popular training technique among athletes, Whole Body Vibration Therapy is sometimes used immediately before competition and/or during scheduled breaks in play.

In a 2016 study, professional soccer players from the U.K. who underwent Whole Body Vibration Therapy discern improvements in their knee isometric peak force.

"The vibration initiates a subtle muscle activation that's thought to provide a 'priming' or 'muscle-tuning' [effect] – when it's completed within a short period of time prior to physical training or performance, it provides enhanced muscle recruitment and generation of muscle power and performance," -- explains Dennis Dolny, a research scientist at the John Worley Sports Medicine Center at Utah State University in Logan.

Dr. Naresh Rao, a partner at Sports Medicine at Chelsea in New York City and a physician for Team USA Water Polo, has witnessed this effect firsthand.

"It's a way to strengthen certain muscle groups and improve power and explosive movements in a short period of time," Rao says.

At the U.S. Olympic Training Center, a gymnast with a sprained ankle did weight-bearing exercises such as toe raises while standing on the vibration plate. "This gave tone to the surrounding muscles, and in combination with exercise, she had a notably faster recovery," Rao says.

Comparably, a water polo player with an overuse injury of the knee performed quadriceps-strengthening exercises on a whole body vibration machine. "Subjectively, it helped him feel better," Rao says, "and he felt stronger when he got back in the pool to swim."

It's not just about strengthening muscles, though. "Perhaps whole body vibration therapies greatest potential is to contribute to enhanced joint flexibility and improved flexibility in the muscle groups surrounding the skeletal joints," Dolny says.

"So in sports such as gymnastics, where flexibility and body alignment are crucial to the physical and aesthetic aspects of competition, whole body vibration therapy training provides additional benefits to more traditional forms of training."

For best results, discuss Whole Body Vibration Therapy with your physician. As long as it's done safely, there's little risk associated with whole body vibration therapy, experts say.

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