Good Vibrations

Jun 14, 2008 | Health, June 2008, Mind & Body

The ups and downs of vibration training

by Annette M. Zaharoff, MD

Sports medicine specialists and athletes are looking for new way to facilitate training and rehabilitate injuries. Clinicians have recently investigated the use of whole body vibration (WBV), in which patients stand on a platform that provides gentle to challenging constant vibration that reverberates through the body. The vibrational therapy units that are generated reproduce the effects of gravity, which are thought to have systemic and therapeutic benefits.

Although WBV technology has been around for over 40 years, research studies are inconsistent regarding the effects of vibration on the body. Here are some of the benefits that have been reported:

Similar to aerobic and anaerobic exercise, WBV may increase strength and endurance by increasing oxygen uptake and stimulating involuntary muscle contractions.

Comparable to weight training, WBV may increase muscle strength and work tolerance with less effort and in shorter time periods by enhancing neuro-muscular activity.

Balance and coordination may improve by challenging the body’s stretch receptors and tendons reflexes.

Osteoporosis may be combated by enhancing hormones and increasing mechanical stressors on bone, which may facilitate increased bone density.

Pain of arthritis may be reduced by improving circulation and fluid delivery to the joint space, thereby possibly improving joint mobility and decreasing stress.

Post-operative recovery may be enhanced by stimulating the release of serotonin and growth hormone with WBV.

Cardiovascular benefits of WBV may include improved cardiac output and decreased plaque buildup.

Although no research to date has proven WBV can enhance athletic performance, many collegiate and professional sports teams utilize vibration platforms as an adjunct to standard dynamic warm-up routines. There are also anecdotal reports from athletes using WBV in their workouts and rehabilitation to improve the efficiency of their strength training, allowing the use of less weight and fewer repetitions without diminishing the benefit.

While WBV is fairly safe, there are certain conditions where WBV should not be used or used with caution. These include patients with serious cardiovascular disease, pacemakers, recent surgery, epilepsy, severe diabetes, acute hernias and metal implants. Also, patients who are pregnant, have had recent infections, have active tumors or have metal plates or pins should avoid WBV.

WBV is a new concept with much research yet to be performed. It may be years before researchers can conclusively determine the best way to use vibration training in athletes; however, many practitioners are not necessarily waiting for those findings. As with any treatment or training question, contact your sports medicine specialist to find out if vibration makes sense for you.

Dr. Annette Zaharoff is a sports medicine physician specializing in the nonsurgical evaluation and treatment of injuries. She maintains a private practice in San Antonio and may be reached by calling her office at (210) 616-0646 or by visiting her Web site

South Texas Fitness & Health