Since the early 1960’s, space programs have been using vibration to help astronauts overcome the damaging effects that the weightless environment in space has on the skeletal system. Among these are muscle wasting, impaired balance and loss of bone mineral density. Sound familiar? These effects begin to occur within the first few days of being in space and are similar to what can happen to our body as a result of the aging process. If vibration can help the astronauts maintain their muscle and bone strength in space, it would only make sense that it could do the same for us here on earth.
Whole body vibration (WBV) treatment is done on a platform that vibrates up and down very rapidly….in fact at a rate from 10-30 times a second! This vibration travels up the body and has an impact on every tissue and system. Our muscles, in order to counteract the vibration, react by contracting and relaxing dozens of times each second. This enhances muscle strength, coordination and balance. WBV has been shown to be an effective treatment approach for improving leg strength, dynamic and static balance and speed of muscle movement in older adults (1, 2) How fast your muscles react can be the difference between losing your balance and falling, or staying upright. Bone cells have also been shown to respond to the mechanical stimulus provided by vibration. Studies show that high frequency vibration inhibits osteoclast formation, the cells that break down bone, leading to improved bone density. (3)
A session on a vibration plate can last from 5-15 minutes depending on your fitness level. When you turn on the machine, the platform you stand on starts to move and you will feel rapid shaking throughout your body. The plate will move at a certain rate, called frequency, and go up and down a certain distance, called amplitude. It is the amplitude that produces the impact forces on your bones.
The best way that I have seen the impact force effect describes likens it to the forces you feel when you go up and down in an elevator. When you are riding down in an elevator, especially at a higher speed, you can feel light, almost like you are levitating off the floor of the elevator. However, if the elevator were to stop and suddenly begin to go up, you would feel a force downward through your body and legs because of the increased gravitational force.
It is the rapid increase and decrease of amplitude created by the whole body vibration machines that mimics gravitational force which in turn makes the muscles work harder and stimulates the bones to get stronger.
We know that impact through the bones is important to stimulating bone remodeling and vibration therapy provides that impact but in a more controlled and gentle way than other impact activities such as jogging or jumping. This is particularly beneficial to women with osteoporosis who have limitations with exercise due to arthritis or injuries to joints and ligaments. It enables them to strengthen muscle, improve bone remodeling and train balance without stressing the joints. WBV can be an effective way to modify well-recognized risk factors for falls and help prevent fractures in women with osteoporosis. (4)
This is why whole body vibration is an important part of my Bone Health Program.
Although vibration therapy is a valuable part of my Bone Health Program, it is not the only method we use for enhancing your bone health. WBV is combined with a personalized program to build strength, improve posture and train balance. In conjunction with exercise, the program also emphasizes nutrition, stress management, healthy lifestyle habits and smart supplementation. The Bone Health Program, located in Reston, Virginia, is unique because it provides a truly comprehensive and integrative approach to building strong bones.
If you live outside the Northern Virginia area, you can call around to your local physical therapy offices or gyms to see if any of them offer training on a WBV machine. Although there is ongoing discrepancies on optimal frequency and amplitude for improving muscle and bone strength, a frequency of 30 Hz has been seen to be beneficial to bone remodeling with an amplitude range from 1.7 mm to 12 mm. (5) The Hypervibe and Power Plate are the most popular whole body vibration machines currently being used by the fitness and rehabilitation industry.
There is no magic pill when it comes to maintaining and gaining muscle and bone mass as we age. However, there are many ways we can increase our strength and overall health and well-being. Exercise and nutrition are the foundation!
2. Rogan, S., Hilfiker, R., Herren, K., Radlinger, L., & Bruin, E. D. (2011, November 03). Effects of whole-body vibration on postural control in elderly: a systematic review and meta-analysis. Retrieved August 21, 2017, from https://bmcgeriatr.biomedcentral.com/articles/10.1186/1471-2318-11-72
3. Effect of low-magnitude, high-frequency vibration on osteocytes in the regulation of osteoclasts. (n.d.). Retrieved August 21, 2017, from http://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S8756328210004928
4. Could whole body vibration exercises influence the risk factors for fractures in women with osteoporosis? (n.d.). Retrieved August 21, 2017, from http://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S2405525516300589
5. Wu, X., Sun, L., Qi, H., Shi, H., & Fan, Y. (2016, January 18). The bio‐response of osteocytes and its regulation on osteoblasts under vibration. Retrieved August 21, 2017, from http://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/10.1002/cbin.10575/abstract