Vibration Therapy: An old Idea With New Technology for Fighting Pain

vibration therapy

Image: Amazon

Dr. John Harvey Kellogg was an odd fellow to say the least. He invented several strange medical devices, insisted on high-powered enema machines, and was even a vocal activist for the eugenics movement of the day. Kellogg was convinced that sex was terribly unhealthy and the cause of most diseases. Thus, he became an ardent supporter of the Victorian-era’s anti-masturbation campaign. He even boasted being married for 40 years and never having sex with his wife, although that sounds like a poor excuse for covering up something else, in my opinion. For Kellogg, a key way to combat the maladies that came from such activity – bad posture, mood swings, bashfulness, and boldness to name a few – was primarily through diet. For example, he developed both the initial concept for and also the name “granola.” Working with his brother Will Kellogg, he also created Corn Flakes. These were literally part of his anti-masturbation crusade.

That’s why it’s incredibly ironic that among Kellogg’s inventions was the vibrating chair. Allegedly, it was used to stimulate the vital organs in the lower abdomen. Apparently, you can still visit the Kellogg Discovery Center in Battle Creek, Michigan, and sit on this chair yourself. I have no idea if it’s plugged in, but you can imagine the potential effect the chair had on women. He may have gotten the idea from others who were developing vibration therapy machines for medical use as well. For example, Joseph Mortimer Granville invented a handheld battery-operated device, called Granville’s Hammer, to relieve muscle aches and pains. He sold his vibrator to physicians who used them on women to treat so-called “hysteria” in women. That’s right…they used vibrators on women to treat their “nerves.”

Is This Really a Medical Thing?

This probably isn’t where you thought this article was going. It’s actually not. The last time I mentioned masturbation as a healthful benefit to remediating the pain associated with fibromyalgia, half of you launched into angry tirades at the mere suggestion, while the other half gave virtual ‘high-fives.’ So, about half of you will be relieved to know this article is not about using vibrators. The other half will be mildly disappointed. But the above information does lay the groundwork for the health benefits of vibration therapy, or at least for the medical exploration of it since more than a century ago.

Although, arguably not the first to come up with the idea, Russian physician Gustav Zander invented a therapeutic vibration device in 1867. Even Dr. Kellogg proclaimed that his vibrating chair could cure you of constipation and improve circulation. As the decades passed, various space programs started using vibration therapy on astronauts to strengthen bone mass and muscles.

The Russians were especially adept at this, as explained by Dr. Christian H. Reichardt: “Cosmonauts used WBV [whole body vibration] machines to maintain bone mineral density and muscle strength. Instead of being too weak to walk upon returning from orbit, the Russian cosmonauts were returning from space in almost the same condition as when they left. Ever wonder why the Russians were so dominant in the Olympics during the 1980’s? You guessed it…their athletes were using WBV regularly in training and rehabilitation programs.” So yeah…vibration therapy is really a medical thing.

What is Vibration Therapy Good For?

Science-Based Medicine explains, “Whole body vibration therapy (WBVT) refers to these legitimate physical vibrations. It is being offered as a treatment for balance, back pain, neurological disorders, and also simple fitness” [emphasis added]. And guess what, fibro folks? At least one study looked at WBVT for fibromyalgia patients and came to this conclusion: “‘Whole-body vibration could be an adequate treatment for fibromyalgia as a main therapy or added to a physical exercise programme as it could improve balance, disability index, health-related quality of life, fatigue, and pain.”


How Does Vibration Therapy Work?

In case you’re a little weirded out, wondering what in the world the therapy actually does, Science-Based Medicine explains, “WBVT is considered a passive exercise modality, in which something is being done to the person, rather than the person actively engaging in an activity, such as walking, weight lifting, or swimming. With WBVT users lay, sit, or stand on a platform that vibrates rapidly in one or more directions. The idea is that the rapid vibrations force the muscles of the body to contract in reaction, providing a form of exercise.”

Additionally, there is localized vibration therapy. In this case, a therapist will place a hand-held device directly on your muscles, such as thigh or back muscles. This causes the muscles to contract and relax. Reportedly, the benefits extend to the following:

  • Increase bone density
  • Increase muscle mass
  • Improve circulation
  • Reduce joint pain
  • Reduce back pain
  • Alleviate stress
  • Boost metabolism

There is even research showing that vibration therapy can have short-term effects on motor impairments in patients with Parkinson’s disease. You can purchase a number of therapy machines for your home through traditional resources like Amazon. But you can also talk to your healthcare practitioner for more specialized therapy that works according to your health needs. Have you ever tried this option for your fibro, another health condition, or even weight loss? How did it work for you?

Comments

comments