Did you know that during the Russian space programs, doctors realized that astronauts suffered a higher rate of bone loss and fractures at a much younger age than normal? In order to both prevent and heal these injuries, astronauts began using vibration therapy to strengthen their bone mass and muscles. It’s so effective that NASA still uses vibration therapy today to help prevent bone loss during space travel.
Although we have yet to get to travel to space, David and I have experienced the health benefits of vibration therapy and have found that it is very effective. So this week, Week 25 in our Full Year of Resolutions, Tip #25 is all about the health benefits of vibration therapy.
What in the world is vibration therapy?
Some of you may be thinking, “I have no idea what they are talking about” when it comes to vibration therapy. I know this is one of those things that might sound a little “out there,” but stick with me on this one…If there were a technology that the smartest scientists in the world found to be restorative and healing to your bones and muscles, and this very same technology could be easily used from your own home – no space travel required – would you want in?
Well, that’s exactly what vibration therapy is. Vibration therapy uses low-magnitude mechanical impulses to exercise your bones, muscles, and joints. It sends calibrated mechanical energy waves up through your body which increases blood flow and helps bones and muscles recover naturally. These vibrations cause rapidly-repeating skeletal muscle contractions. This helps promote and regulate a series of physiological processes and improve the performance of multiple body systems.
In this article we will talk about the vibration therapy machine we chose and why, how we use it, and four distinct benefits we’ve seen (and that science confirms) from consistently using it. Remember, as with all exercise programs, be sure to consult your doctor before you start this or any new program.
You bought what??
Several years ago David came home with this machine and started excitedly sharing with me all the things it was going to do to improve our health. I just looked at him skeptically, thinking that a really good salesman had just done a real number on my husband. He’d spent a lot of money on this new health gadget. Now he was going on and on that all we’d need to do is stand on it for 20 minutes a day and it would improve balance, muscle strength, and bone density.
I’d only been half listening until he said those last two words. That caught my attention. “Wait,” I said, “Did you say bone density?” Suddenly I was all ears. My mom had been diagnosed with osteopenia, and I was interested in anything that would help prevent me from getting that. So I looked into this new-fangled vibration therapy machine David had brought home and started doing my own research.
Needless to say, I am totally sold on vibration therapy. And I’m so glad my husband brought home that machine that day. We’ve both experienced the benefits for ourselves. Here are four of the reasons we believe in the health benefits of vibration therapy.
Benefit #1: Improves bone density and prevents bone loss
We all know that exercise is critical to our health. Most of us realize we need to do a mix of cardio and strength training to keep our bodies healthy. We even talk about the importance of exercising our brains. But did you know the Surgeon General has said that exercising for bone health is equally important? And many of us are missing this critical component in our workout regimens.
Exercise for your bones
Our skeletons do more than just hold up our bodies. Our bones make our red and white blood cells. They also regulate growth hormone, testosterone, and blood sugar. And, they produce those very important stem cells, the kind that helps repair our joints, ligaments, muscles, and nerves.
Bones are like muscles – if we don’t provide the right kind of resistance, they atrophy and grow weaker. The skeleton needs a unique type of exercise to function properly: impact. Without proper impact exercise, our bones become brittle and thin.
But not just any impact; it needs to be the safe kind and just the right amount. We call these “microimpacts.” Our bones crave them!
So how do we get the good type of impact our bones need to be healthy? Well, we could walk barefoot for five miles each day in nature. But scientists have found an easier way: vibration therapy.
When you use a vibration therapy machine, you stand on a platform that provides soft, low-magnitude mechanical impulses to your bones, muscles, and joints. (See our video demonstration here.) These tiny waves of energy, or microimpacts, provide gentle and controlled impulses to the musculoskeletal system. Research says these microimpacts promote bone health. They also increase blood flow. This helps increase range of motion, improves balance and stability, and improves recovery with less joint and muscle pain.
A good vibration therapy machine will not only help prevent bone loss but in some cases, it has been shown to reverse conditions like osteopenia and actually improve bone density as we age. Studies suggest that vibration therapy may help stimulate bone formation while improving bone strength. Ongoing research shows that low-magnitude, high-frequency vibration, the type you get from using a vibration therapy machine, actually accelerates bone regeneration.
The most compelling data of all: My own
Four years ago I had my first Dexa Body Scan done. This is a quick and pain-free body analysis that tells you a lot about what is going in on in there. It includes an in-depth analysis of fat tissue, muscle mass, and bone density. At that time, my T-Score (which measures bone density) was 0.5. Even though this was still above zero and I was considered to be in the normal range, I felt like I needed to do something. I want to prevent those osteo problems that I’ve watched my mom struggle with.
I started using the vibration therapy machine five times a week. Besides strength training (see our video on this important topic here), there isn’t anything else I am doing to improve bone strength. Just last month I had a follow-up body scan. My latest T-Score was 1.0! I had doubled my bone density score! This means that even though I’ve grown four years older, my bones are denser and younger than they were four years ago. That is some pretty solid evidence that my vibration therapy is working!
We’re so convinced of the bone benefits available through vibration therapy that we purchased machines for both of our parents. I wanted my mom to be able to reverse her osteopenia, and I knew my dad, who struggles with Parkinson’s disease, could use it to help improve his balance.
Benefit #2: Improves circulation and assists with recovery
Vibration therapy is becoming more and more popular with performance athletes. They use it as part of their training and their recovery, as it’s been shown to improve flexibility and muscle performance while helping to prevent muscle-tendon injuries. It’s also frequently used by athletes to aid in recovery after an injury.
One reason this therapy is so effective is because studies show it increases blood circulation. Tiny vibrations flowing through your body enhance the delivery of nutrients and oxygen to the cells. This reduces pain symptoms and helps to loosen up the muscles and joints. It’s particularly effective in treating chronic soft tissue injuries (such as bursitis, plantar fasciitis, and tendinitis) and other hard-to-treat diseases that are often related to poor microcirculation. Research also says that vibration therapy helps prevent muscle soreness after exercise, another side effect of improved blood flow.
A very personal case study
You can read all the studies you like, but nothing is more meaningful than your own experience. We have used vibration therapy to help recover from intense workouts. We’ve even used it to help rebound from injury more quickly.
Last year my husband David had a pretty bad cycling accident. He was pretty down, as normally this type of accident would force him out of activity for quite a while. After resting for one day, he started getting back on our vibration therapy machine. Within just one week he was able to be back cycling again. We’re convinced the therapy made a huge difference. When you improve blood flow in your system, you improve healing.
In addition to fewer sports-related injuries and faster recovery time from injuries when they do occur, benefits that are linked to vibration therapy include:
- Fewer stress fractures
- Increase in vertical jump height and length
- Substantial increase in speed
- Improved coordination and balance
- Increased stamina
- Greater flexibility and range of movement
- Prevents lactic acid accumulation
Benefit #3: Improves lean muscle mass
Studies show that vibration therapy also increases muscle mass. Between the ages of 40-80, our total skeletal muscle mass declines 30-50% in men and women alike. This progressive loss of muscle mass and function is often accepted as an unavoidable part of aging. However, this is absolutely not true. Although it is so prevalent in older adults, it is completely preventable. Vibration therapy is one way to help prevent the loss of lean muscle mass.
While you stand on the machine, the vibrations trigger hundreds of muscle contractions every minute. This causes changes in the length of the muscle-tendon complex (that’s a unit of muscles and tendons that work together). This triggers various physiological adaptive responses. It helps to counteract overall loss of muscle mass and improves the quality of existing lean muscle mass throughout your body.
Physical exercise combined with vibration stimulation has been called “revolutionary.” It allows you to efficiently and effectively train skeletal muscles, as well as increase muscle volume and improve muscle strength and performance.
Benefit #4: Helps to improve your balance
I believe that improving your balance is just as important as improving bone density. As we age, our ability to balance becomes a real issue. For those of us helping to care for elderly parents, we know the damage that can happen with just one fall. That’s why we bought one of these machines for our parents. We were starting to see the effects of aging on their balance.
Studies prove that whole-body vibration training improves balance control. It also improves sit-to-stand performance (anyone struggling to get up off the floor lately?) among middle-aged and older adults. As the vibration travels up your body, it signals every system, including the brain, to make adjustments to the vibrations to keep you standing upright. Doing this over and over again helps stabilize your body and improves your balance. In addition, the combination of improving lean muscle mass and bone density also provides a noticeable improvement in balance.
And that’s not all vibration therapy can do…
We’ve included our favorite reasons for incorporating vibration therapy into our daily routines, but this is not a complete list of everything vibration therapy can do. Ongoing studies show great potential for a wide variety of other benefits, including reduced joint pain, help in treating back pain, alleviating stress, and boosting metabolism. It’s also been shown to help with specific diagnoses, like Cerebral palsy, Parkinson’s disease, fibromyalgia, high blood pressure, restless leg syndrome, urinary incontinence, etc.
One study conducted by the Institute for the Ages in Sarasota, FL, found that participants who implemented vibration therapy for 15 minutes, three times a week, reported a “dramatic improvement in how they felt.” Additional study results included improvements in conditions like arthritis and muscle pain. Participants said they felt invigorated and relaxed after participation.
How to do vibration therapy
Using a vibration therapy machine is about as easy as it gets. In fact, the convenience of vibration therapy is one of the reasons it is gaining in popularity and is increasingly recommended by doctors, physical therapists, athletes, and trainers. It only takes about 15 minutes for your muscles to benefit from an impressive, zero-impact workout that results in increased strength, stability, and tone.
All you do is stand on the machine. (You can watch a demonstration of this on our weekly video post, here.) In just a few seconds, it calibrates to your size, shape, and body mass. Then you can enjoy the session as thousands of soothing pulses travel through the soles of your feet and throughout your body. Each time you do it, the gentle vibrations stimulate and heal your joints and muscle fibers while safely exercising your bones.
If you have to stop for any reason, you simply step off. David and I do this while standing in front of our red light therapy machine (learn all about that here), so we are getting twice the benefit in just a few easy minutes a day.
The vibration therapy machine we use
There are a lot of good vibration machines out there, but after doing his research, David chose to invest in Juvent’s Micro-Impact Platform®. It’s about the size and shape of a typical bathroom scale. We’ve really been impressed with the device and with the company’s customer service. The science behind this clinically-proven microimpact platform is pretty impressive, and it has cutting-edge, patented sensing technology.
So, what do you think?
Have you ever tried vibration therapy? Now that you’ve read a bit more about the science behind it, what do you think? We’d love to hear your feedback, and we’re always happy to answer any questions you might have. You can comment below, or post them on any of our social media sites.
For those of you interested in our free coaching calls, we do them once a month on a Tuesday night at 6 PM MST. Anyone can join us. If you have health questions on anything we’ve discussed, or any health issue, you can ask it live, type it in the comments, or you can just listen in as others get coached. To join us, just text COACHING to 1-647-558-9895 to join our email list. You can also watch our social media pages for the link.
Thanks for joining us on our More Than Healthy journey, and we’ll see you next week.