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Vibration treatment put to the test

Vibration treatment put to the test

Dr Sue Broadbent
(left) assists exercise science lecturer Sandie Choate on
the Vibrogym platform
Dr Sue Broadbent (left) assists exercise science lecturer Sandie Choate on the Vibrogym platform.

Vibration treatment put to the test

Vibration treatment is being hailed not only as a way to get fit faster but also as a means of rapid recovery from sore muscles and other soft tissue injuries.

In the United States, top professional basketball and baseball players are using the treatment and commercial gymnasiums and health studios here are buying the $15,000-plus vibration machines to offer to clients including netball’s Silver Ferns.

Now Massey scientists are putting those claims to the test, trying to work out not only whether vibration treatment is effective by how it works.

They want 30 volunteers to “injure” themselves by running non-stop downhill for 40 minutes then have their recovery monitored. Some will receive vibration treatment but others will not.

Dr Sue Broadbent from the Institute of Food, Nutrition and Human Health says little is known about exactly how vibration treatment may reduce the inflammation associated with soft tissue injury.

“To test this we are going to induce muscle damage in volunteers, by downhill running on a treadmill, and then give vibration treatment to half of them,” says Dr Broadbent, a lecturer in exercise prescription. “We'll take blood samples to measure markers of muscle damage and inflammation for a week afterwards.”

The Vibrogym platform donated for the study can be set to vibrate at between 30 and 50 Hz (cycles per second). It moves up and down either 2mm or 5mm each cycle. The user stands, squats or lies on the platform to treat different parts of the body. People using it say it makes muscles tingle.

Vibration therapy is used in rehabilitation and general fitness for increasing muscle and bone density, and in some sports for increasing flexibility.

Research has suggested that what is known as whole body vibration, or WBV, of between 30 to 50 Hz may increase blood flow and tissue temperature, reduce pain by stimulating nerve endings, and increase muscle strength by stimulating muscle spindles, motor neuron activity and isometric muscle contractions.

“However the exact mechanisms by which whole body vibration may reduce inflammation associated with soft tissue injury, as reported anecdotally, remain unclear,” says Dr Broadbent. “One study suggested that vibration-induced alterations in blood volume, blood flow and tissue temperature enhanced recovery from soft tissue inflammation, but no study has investigated WBV effects on the specific markers of inflammation.”

The 30 study volunteers will undertake a 40-minute downhill run on a laboratory treadmill set at a 10 deg gradient and within a day or two all are expected to have sore muscles.

They will then be randomly allocated to a control group or a treatment group. The treatment group will undergo WBV lasting 15 minutes per session, for five consecutive days, to determine if the vibration decreases the inflammation associated with muscle soreness.

Blood samples will be drawn from both groups before and after the run, and again one and five days later to measure differences between the groups in leukocyte concentration and inflammatory markers – both indicators of injury and soreness.

Increased knowledge of the specific actions of vibration treatment may improve the recovery from soft tissue injuries, which can also be used after major trauma and surgery.

So if vibration treatment is good for the body, how about working with a jackhammer all day? Dr Broadbent says no. The higher frequency and forces of industrial machinery have no therapeutic effect and in fact heavy machinery vibrations are over 100Hz with a higher amplitude often cause work-related injuries.

Dr Broadbent is recruiting volunteers for the runners’ study in August, and expects to report findings early next year.


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