Vibration therapy may seem more like the ultimate way to relax, but a fair bit of science is backing its efficacy for post-workout recovery.
Whether you’re looking for better exercise performance, enhanced recovery, or to fight decrements associated with aging, vibration therapy (VT) is a great alternative therapy with positive benefits for bones, muscles, and tendons.
And for people who aren’t keen on foam rolling, using a Theragun, or getting a massage, it’s a simple and effective at-home way to reap many of the same benefits for post-workout muscle recovery.
For anyone unfamiliar with vibration therapy, this blog will explain all the details and benefits and why ourRipple Ball is a must if you’re looking to start with vibration therapy!
Vibration therapy may seem like a pretty simple concept, but its invention wasn’t so much. It was developed by a Russian physician and inventor in 1867 by Gustav Zander. Although vibration devices weren’t what they are today, his was an apparatus that used weights and pulleys to create a sense of vibration, developed for therapeutic uses.
A few decades later, vibration therapy was implemented in the health practice of Dr. John Harvey Kellogg, where he claimed it could help improve circulation and alleviate constipation. The former may be part of its efficacy now, but the latter probably isn’t something we associate with vibration (although definitely possible!).
The use of vibration therapy really took off with its use on Russian astronauts that suffered bone loss and fractures at a much younger age than normal. Vibration therapy was given to help strengthen the astronauts’ bones and increase bone mass and muscle mass. And believe it or not,vibration therapy is still used today by NASA to help prevent bone loss.
There’s a fair bit of research about the benefits of vibration therapy, but we’re going to go through what’s available and its benefits.
Whole body vibration with vibration therapy uses vibrational force to contract and relax your muscles. By triggering rapid muscle contractions, you’re also stimulating tissues, increasing blood flow and improving muscle tone. It can also provide noticeable benefits for spine and joint health.
In technical terms, vibration therapy is a training modality that uses “mechanical oscillations as a stimulus for human neuromuscular structures”; energy is transferred from the vibration device to the human body or specific areas. It’s thought that themechanical stimulus produced uses proprioceptive spinal reflexes to increase muscle function by enhancing muscle spindle excitatory signaling while lowering the inhibitory response of the Golgi tendon organ to the motoneuron pool. Much like resistance training and plyometric training do for the body, a vibration stimulus increases the gravitational load on the neuromuscular system, ultimately providing a stimulus thatmodifies the functional capacity of skeletal muscle.
But how does it work?
You’ll see two primary vibration therapy types:whole-body andlocalized. As they sound, whole-body vibration therapy involves standing or sitting on a vibrating platform to target your body from head to toe. Localized vibration therapy, like the Ripple Ball, is generally a hand-held device that sends vibrations to specific body parts.
The mechanism through which vibration therapy works has been attributed to thetonic vibratory reflex (TVR). The TVR is stimulated by a sequence of rapid muscle stretching that occurs when vibration is applied, triggering muscle spindles and causing aninvoluntary production of strength. Some other mechanisms that may lead to improved muscle function following the use of vibration therapy include:
However, some research suggests that the neurophysiological mechanisms differ based on whether whole-body or localized vibration therapy is used. Whole-body vibration therapy stimulates multiple receptors throughout the body or extremity, leading to adaptations to the motor unit firing frequency and synchronization, muscle tuning, intramuscular coordination, and central motor command; localized vibration therapy, however, exerts its effects on receptors proximal to the simulator. As such, the muscle’s response may differ based on the vibration frequency and how much soft tissue surrounding the application point dampens the vibrations.
But in any case, some of the claims benefits of whole-body and localized vibration therapy include (we’ll dig into some of these more next):
Studies have looked at the benefits of localized and whole-body vibration therapy on a wide range of conditions, some of which include:
But that’s not an inclusive list of the uses of vibration therapy.
Supporters of vibration therapy claim that whole-body and localized vibrations can offer a wide range of health benefits.
As we said with the NASA example, decreasing bone mass due to aging is a big concern.Osteoporosis and osteopenia are the most common bone disorders in older adults and postmenopausal women. It’s characterized by a significant increase in bone fractures resulting from decreased bone mineral density (BMD) and abnormal bone microarchitecture. While most common in females, where the risk significantly increases after menopause, it can happen in men.
Because the health of the musculoskeletal system is largely regulated through physical activity, a lack of physical loading—due to age, injury, lifestyle choices, etc.—can compromise bone density. However, vibration therapy can simulate the anabolic effects of loading on the musculoskeletal system andpromote bone and muscle strength. Although research is still needed, there’s a fair bit of evidence showing the benefit of vibration therapy on bone mass and osteoporosis risk.
Both animal and humanstudies suggest that high-frequency, low-magnitude vibration therapy can improve bone strength by increasing bone formation (building) and decreasing bone resorption (breakdown). Some research also indicates that vibration therapy is helpful for sarcopenia. Vibration signals help to regulate the differentiation of mesenchymal stem cells that build bone tissues.
Someother research suggests that whole-body vibration (WBV) can increase serum concentrations of growth hormone and testosterone, which help to prevent sarcopenia and osteoporosis, but it also increases muscle strength and neuromuscular coordination, which can reduce the risk of falls resulting in bone fractures.
Although whole-body and localized vibration therapy aren’t as effective as weight training for boosting muscle mass and strength, it can be effective for older adults or people with injuries to prevent muscle loss or reduced function.
Research finds that vibration therapy induces non-voluntary muscular contraction through the tonic vibration reflex (TVR) via activation of the proprioceptive sensory system; this system is based on theexcitation of Ia afferent signals from the neuromuscular spindle, which leads to subsequent recruitment of muscle fibers that were previously inactive.
Other possible mechanisms for vibration therapy on muscleinclude:
That said, otherstudies do show no significant improvements in muscle mass after vibrational therapy.
Improvements in peripheral circulation have also been noted in some research on whole-body vibration therapy; muscle oxygenation is also linked to vibration therapy. During physical activity, blood flow to active muscle tissue increases in response to increased demands for oxygen and nutrients and an increased need to eliminate carbon dioxide and hydrogen ions.
Although the science behind tissue oxygenation and blood flow is more than we’re going to get into here, some research indicates that if whole-body vibration increases blood flow or oxygenation, it may have therapeutic potential in any situation where an increase in blood flow or muscle oxygenation is required.
The research on WBV and muscle oxygenation and peripheral blood flow is mixed, but some research suggests that acute bouts of whole-body vibration canenhance peripheral blood flow, but it doesn’t alter skeletal muscle oxygenation.
By boosting circulation and improving whole-body blood flow, vibration therapy can further support injury recovery and post-workout soreness by allowing the body to bring extra nutrients and cells required for repair to the injury site. For example, increasing blood flow, oxygen, and nutrients to a muscle tear or strain site could accelerate healing because the necessary building blocks for the repair are provided through the bloodstream. Increasing blood flow facilitates faster transportation of these compounds and speeds up recovery.
The same concept can be applied to DOMS. Increased blood flow facilitates faster delivery of the nutrients required to heal micro-tears created by strenuous exercise. On top of that, better circulation also allows for enhanced removal of metabolic waste and byproducts, which may reduce muscle soreness and accelerate recovery.
Dealing with muscle soreness post-workout is never ideal, and something as simple as vibrational therapy may effectively mitigate or at least reduce the effects.
Eccentric exercises used as part of strength-training programs causehigh-stress damage to recruited muscle fibers, especially fast-twitch fibers. In response to muscle damage, inflammation levels increase to heal the muscles, leading to muscle soreness, especially 24-72 hours post-exercise. DOMS is not only painful and uncomfortable but can lead to performance and strength decrements.
Research has found that whole-body vibration (WBV) may enhance force-generating capacity by mechanically activating muscles by eliciting neuromuscular activity. That said, the results are mixed. Some research shows benefits like improved flexibility, power, muscle strength, and performance, while others show no results or negative ones.
However, onestudy found that because WBV may improve muscle function, it could effectively prevent muscle damage. Increasing synchrony of motor-unit firing may reduce myofibrillar stress during bouts of eccentric exercise, thereby reducing myofibrillar disruption. The authors of this study concluded that the group using WBV had reduced symptoms of DOMS in the form of less maximal isometric and isokinetic voluntary strength loss, lower creatine kinase levels, and less pressure pain threshold and muscle soreness.
Although vibration therapy may not provide the same pre-workout benefits as a warm-up, where it really shines is post-workout—the period where many people struggle with muscle soreness and aches and pains that prevent next-day training. The faster and more efficient your recovery is, the faster you can get back into the gym and the more you can do.
But besides facilitating a better recovery, vibration therapy can also reduce your risk of injury, preventing off-time and setbacks that can impair performance and progression. How? By potentially enhancing muscle growth and improving bone density, it supports optimal health and strength, which may reduce injury risk.
Additionally, some research suggests it could enhance range of motion and flexibility. A2006 study found that when combined with specific stretching methods, vibration therapy may improve the hamstrings' flexibility and range of motion. The group using vibration therapy over four weeks saw a 30% increase in the hamstring range of motion, while the group using only stretching saw just a 14% increase in the hamstring range of motion.
What does this mean? Vibration therapy could be an awesome therapeutic approach to treatment. If you’ve ever experienced an injury, you’ve likely noticed a decreased range of motion in the affected area. By using localized vibration therapy, you could enhance range of motion post-injury, but it can also help to prevent injuries that may result from poor flexibility.
In simple terms, regular localized vibration therapy can help improve joint strength and flexibility, ultimately improving your performance and preventing injury.
Whether you’re looking for recovery or prevention, localized vibration therapy is an awesome addition to your training and recovery toolkit. But be sure to talk to your healthcare professional before starting it, especially if you’re dealing with an injury.
If you’re not recovering from an injury, localized vibration therapy can easily be used at all stages of your training.
Vibration therapy can facilitate greater blood flow and warm up the muscles for a pre-workout warmup, preparing them for work and reducing the likelihood of injury. Onestudy looked at using vibration therapy for warmups in golfers and found that it resulted in increased flexibility and power output and may be effective when used as an adjunct to static stretching.
Usually, vibration therapy tools are in the shape of a sphere, like the Ripple Ball, allowing for easier positioning in tight areas. You can use it sitting, lying, or standing. And because it comes in various frequencies, you can choose the pressure that suits you best.
Just like foam rolling, apply moderate pressure to the targeted area with the Ripple Ball, but in contrast to rolling, you don’t have to move—the vibrations do the work for you. However, by also rolling the ball while vibrating, you also benefit from myofascial release.
However, be mindful to only place the Ripple Ball on soft tissue—avoid bony prominences and the spine, as this can cause major discomfort or pain. As with foam rolling, it should be a “good pain.” If something doesn’t feel right, stop or adjust your position.
There’s a fair bit of research to suggest that vibration therapy may be effective for treating a number of concerns and improving overall athletic performance, but it should never replace your normal recovery or strength training routine—it’s designed to complement a solid recovery routine.If you’re looking for more ways to maximize your recovery, head to our Instagram page for inspiration!
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