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What do Olympic athletes, astronauts, and grandmas in nursing homes have in common? Scientific studies have shown how these groups have all benefited from wave vibration platforms. I rely on easy home workouts like these to stay in shape, but wave vibration is an easy way to gain more health benefits without extra time.
What Is Wave Vibration Therapy?
Wave vibration, also known as whole body vibration, is gaining popularity and has been heavily studied by the scientific community. In a nutshell, this therapy involves standing on an oscillating plate that produces low-level vibrations. These vibrations then create positive stress throughout the body that activates multiple systems such as muscular contractions, blood vessel dilation, and even skeletal growth.
Researchers have determined exercising on a vibration plate can be as effective as conventional exercise, but with less time and effort. It also shows promise as a helpful therapy for older or immobile patients who can’t exercise in the traditional way.
How Does Wave Vibration Work?
When someone stands on the vibrating plate, their circulatory, nervous, lymphatic, and muscle systems are all activated. The rapid vibrations contract muscles and tendons by stimulating certain receptors to provide passive exercise. The body is continually trying to adjust and balance itself, which results in the engagement of muscles some didn’t even know they had.
The Benefits of Wave Vibration
Because wave vibration activates so many of the body’s different systems, it has a plethora of benefits. There are hundreds of studies pointing to the therapy’s benefits, while more research is still on going. Below are some of the most studied and most used ways that others are benefiting from wave vibration.
Anyone who has ever boarded a ship knows firsthand what the term “sea legs” means. Wave vibration works in much the same way to improve balance and decrease fall risk. Dozens of studies have looked at how the therapy significantly improves balance and posture control, especially in the elderly and physical therapy patients.
Our gait, or how we walk, is a tell for other issues going on in the body. Gait can be affected by poor muscle contraction, improper circulation, or neurological disorders, to name a few. Two elderly groups were tested for balance and gait after undergoing therapy. The group that did physical therapy combined with wave therapy improved significantly, while the purely physical therapy group actually decreased in balance and gait function.
More Comfortable Joints
Wave therapy may be able to help with joint pain and arthritis. It has been proven to strengthen muscles and improve flexibility, including around the knee and other joints. Studies show that flexibility can decline up to 50% in certain joints by age 70. However, wave therapy has been shown to improve both joint strength and flexibility. In one study, rheumatoid arthritis sufferers saw an improvement in both fatigue and ability to function after using wave therapy.
Improves Muscle Power
High intensity interval training is popular with good reason. For those reaping the benefits of this exercise method, wave vibration further increases the benefits. Wave therapy improves muscle power and shortens the time it takes us to voluntarily activate our muscles. This proves helpful for movements that activate fast twitch muscle fibers. It’s also been shown to help the elderly get out of car seats and other low seats with more ease.
Wave therapy doesn’t just increase blood circulation, but the secretion and circulation of specific hormones as well. Several studies have demonstrated an increase in growth hormones following wave vibration therapy. One group of men who were given wave therapy also saw an increase in plasma levels of testosterone, and a decrease in the stress hormone cortisol. Severely disabled individuals who were exposed to wave vibration therapy saw a significant decrease in stress and anxiety.
The increase in circulation, growth hormones, and other factors during wave therapy has a positive effect on bones. A study of post-menopausal women found that it increased bone mineral density in the hip area when the women stood with slightly bent knees. Another study found improvements in the density of both the hips and lower spine when participants stood straight with their weight on their heels.
Help for Diabetics
Animal studies show an improvement in both muscle mass and insulin sensitivity in overweight, diabetic mice. The group that stood on a vibrating platform for 20 minutes had the same beneficial results as the group that ran for 45 minutes on a treadmill. The gentle vibrations also increase circulation to the limbs to help diminish the pain and damage associated with diabetic neuropathy. These benefits are also helpful for pre-diabetics to potentially improve insulin resistance, as part of a diabetes reversing program.
Weight Loss and Cellulite Reduction
In one group, just 8-13 minutes of wave therapy several times a week for 6 months improved cellulite by 26%. The results were even better when combined with a cardio routine, where participants saw a 32% decrease in cellulite. Wave therapy has also been shown to help people lose weight more efficiently and be more likely to keep it off.
Faster Healing Times
Healthy circulation is the key to a speedy recovery, as the blood pumps necessary body healing materials throughout the body. Professional athletes use vibration therapy to recover from injury faster, increase strength, and improve overall performance. Wave vibration not only increases circulation in the body, but also in the skin. This vibration stimulates hormone production to speed recovery time, and the increase in circulation gets the hormones to damaged tissue more quickly and efficiently.
Other Benefits of Wave Vibration Therapy
- Increases endurance
- Benefits the brain and nervous system. Additionally it decreased Parkinson’s tremors by 25%.
- Users experience a healthy, active heart rate faster than with conventional exercise
- Improves lymphatic system flow for potential detox
- Helps relieve arterial stiffness in middle-aged and older adults
Risks (and Who Shouldn’t Use Wave Vibration)
Wave vibration is incredibly safe and its benefits have even been studied in the elderly, severely disabled people and physical therapy patients. However, there are a few groups cautioned against its use. The American Council on Exercise advises against wave therapy for those who are pregnant, have a history of seizures, blood clotting issues, tumors, or people with pacemakers.
Does It Damage the Body?
There has also been speculation that vibration therapy can decrease circulation and damage joints and bones because of its jarring nature. This however is comparing it to the detrimental effects construction workers experience when gripping jackhammers or bouncing around while driving heavy machinery. The evidence clearly shows that low levels of wave vibration have numerous health benefits. This is not the same as the prolonged and harsh effects experienced over years of hard work on a job site.
How to Use Wave Vibration
Since vibration therapy stimulates so many of the body’s systems, it’s best to start slow. Experts recommend starting with a few minutes a day, then working up to a maximum of 15 minutes. Strength training and cardio exercises combine well with wave vibration therapy. The platform can be stood on with slightly bent knees, or users can add exercises like squats and lunges to increase the benefits.
The benefits are best seen with consistent use. One study showed no improvement with balance or posture control, however participants only did one session. Many other studies show major benefits after a few weeks of use.
Choosing a Wave Vibration Device
Certain fitness centers and gyms have large vibration platforms available. The trend is just catching on in the US, so you may have more luck purchasing your own online. Different vibration platforms have different specs, so it’s worth comparing brands. Ideally the wave vibration will have a wide range of motion, not just side to side, but also up and down, and back to front.
Wave Vibration Plate
We have a wave vibration plate and use it daily for the benefits listed above. It is pricey, but like most health treatments, it ended up being cheaper for us in the long run. Because going to a facility is pricey, it has paid for itself over time.
Percussive Vibration Devices
There are some smaller (and much less expensive) options too. Handheld devices can offer percussive and vibrational therapy to a small area of the body and are great for lymphatic and fascia release and muscle tension relief. The ones I’ve tried are:
- The Myobuddy – I love this thing and it is like a massage at home!
- Rapid Release – More pricey but used by physical therapists and chiropractors for muscle tightness and recovery
A rebounder is essentially a mini trampoline with a fancy name. Rebounding is a budget-friendly way to get the benefits of wave vibration and they are good exercise too! Kids tend to love this option and we have a mini trampoline for this reason. There are budget models for as low as around $30 or fancier models that cost a little more.
For those who don’t want to invest a chunk of change into a wave vibration platform, a BOSU ball offers many of the same benefits. It works by causing the user to balance on an unsteady half ball. With this method, the muscles are doing the work of adjusting, without the outside prompting of a machine. It won’t give all the benefits of vibration therapy, but will provide the balance and core benefits.
This article was medically reviewed by Madiha Saeed, MD, a board certified family physician. As always, this is not personal medical advice and we recommend that you talk with your doctor.
Can you see yourself benefiting from wave vibration therapy? Is this something you’ve already used?
Resources & Further Reading:
- Controlled whole body vibration to decrease fall risk and improve health-related quality of life
- Whole body vibration exercise in older people
- Review of aging and physical activity
- Whole body vibration training mimics metabolic effects of exercise and improves cardiovascular health
- The effect of whole body vibration on lower extremity skin blood flow
- The perks and pitfalls of whole body vibration therapy
- Human response to vibration
- Risks and benefits of whole body vibration training in older people
- Hormonal responses to whole-body vibration in men.
- Effects of vibration therapy on hormone response and stress in severely disabled patients
- Whole body vibration therapy for painful diabetic peripheral neuropathy