Vibration therapy machines in physical therapy

When it comes to vibration therapy machines in physical therapy, the reaction is quite mixed. I’ve worked with physical therapists, physiatrists and and strength conditioning coaches over 10 years with vibration therapy machines. No matter how much I deal with fellow health professionals, there are always a million questions that they throw at me concerning the technology and it’s effect on specific patient conditions. This article goes over some of resistance that some physical therapists may have about vibration therapy. I also include some links to videos on physical therapists using vibration therapy machines so you can see some of the real applications.

Vibration therapy machines in spinal cord rehabilitation

I’ve been involved in the effects of vibration therapy machines on spinal cord rehabilitation for well over 7 years. My initial introduction came through RIM, also known as the Rehabilitation Institute of Michigan, located in downtown Detroit. The head physical therapist, Bill Thornton, had met me to discuss the potential of integrating vibration therapy machines into his rehabilitation program. You need to remember one thing. It was a point in time when a lot of physical therapists would be weary of this type of new technology. When you are dealing with spinal cord injuries, extreme caution needs to be taken. That’s why it was refreshing to meet a physical therapist that was willing to go against the grain with this new technology.

However, I’ve had some physical therapists that have revealed to me that they don’t ‘believe’ in vibration therapy machines. It always surprises me when I hear that comment. What’s there to believe? New technology comes out all the time. Initial research is at a bare minimum. But over time, more research is being done. Vibration therapy research is ongoing at major universities and hospitals. It’s a work in progress. Most often than not, most of the therapists have never used vibration platforms. They have never talked to therapists, like Bill Thornton, that consistently use the technology in their practice. Instead, they go out of their way to analyze everything about the technology that they can find a weakness in. Now, Bill Thornton runs his own physical therapy practice called Level 11 PT. Here’s a short video that describes Bill’s experience with vibration therapy machines for spinal cord rehabilitation.

Vibration therapy machines for functional training

Not only is vibration therapy gaining attention in spinal cord injury research, it’s also gaining acceptance in functional training. One of the premier physical therapists in the United States is Gary Gray. If you are a physical therapist that deals with functional training, you will have heard of Gary. I introduced vibration therapy to Gary a few years ago. Immediately he understood the application potential of the technology. It didn’t take him long to begin implementing the technology into his practice. In his opinion, vibration therapy machines provide additional micro gravity perturbations that enhance proprioception and balance.

Some physical therapists will post online or discuss with me in person on the ‘waste of time’ in investing in this technology. When I probe further on their own experiences, I don’t get a response. I believe we all have our own preconceived beliefs on how we should best practice in our profession. I get the biggest resistance from those therapists that believe hands on is the best type of way to practice, and technology is not needed. Others discuss how you can achieve similar results with $10 pieces of equipment. I believe they completely miss the point. Vibration therapy machines don’t replace your hands on skills or your protocols. It enhances them. What if you couldn’t find an exercise that could sufficiently contract your patient’s muscles because they had a limited range of motion due to arthritis? What if you spent 20 minutes to decrease spasticity before you could start an effective program for your spinal cord patients? What if vibration therapy machines could do this? What is that worth?

In the end of the day, more research will undoubtedly continue to be published. There will be positive studies and negative studies. This happens with any technology. The goal is not to overly rely on the research. The goal is to take the research results and apply your own clinical expertise to utilizing the vibration technology. I haven’t seen many physical therapists that use it the same way. It depends on your own clinical diagnosis and treatment plan. However, one thing is for certain. Vibration therapy machines in physical therapy is here to stay.


About the Author Dr. Jasper Sidhu

Dr. Jasper Sidhu has been using vibration platforms for over 10 years in rehabilitation, sports, fitness and weight loss settings. In addition to hands on treatment of patients and clients in these settings, he has lectured at various universities and medical association meetings on the application of vibration training.  

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