Does whole body vibration therapy help with arthritis?

vibration therapy for knee arthritis rehabilitationOver the years, I’ve seen some significant improvements in arthritis from whole body vibration. Initially, I was very hesitant to place someone with arthritis on vibration machines, due to the simple fact that there wasn’t much research on its effects or whether it was actually safe. Now, vibration therapy has shown to be safe and effective for a wide variety of conditions. There are two new research studies that just came out that sheds some more light on the effects of vibration exercise on arthritis. This article discusses the findings in both and what it can mean for you if you are looking at vibration exercise as a solution to your arthritic pain and disability.

Vibration therapy research study shows no positive effects

A whole body vibration research study done by Dr. Segal at the University of Iowa looked at 12 weeks of vibration, twice per week on muscle strength, power in women aged 45 to 60 with risk factors associated with knee osteoarthritis. The study found no differences between working out on a vibration platform and one that was not vibrating. Does this mean vibration exercise doesn’t work for those with arthritis? Not at all. There are a few things to take into consideration here. I had actually met Dr. Segal when I did a presentation on the effects of vibration in spinal cord injury at the Academic Association of Physiatrists. He is one of the leaders in Arthritis research. This study focused on a standard program for all women. This is not an excuse for the results they got, since other studies have also used standard programs and seen results. This has more to do with the subtle differences between research and practical experiences in the field.

In my practical experience, three times per week is essential to develop a cumulative effect with vibration. This is similar to various strength training programs with conventional therapies. In addition, each person in the research group was exposed to one frequency and intensity setting through the course of the entire program. We know from previous research that there is an adaptation to a certain stimulus if it is repeated over time. Current fitness practice follows this principle. That’s why the best trainers will recommend that you change up your program so your body doesn’t adapt. I would have liked to see subjects being tested for their current functional fitness levels and then placed on a program that fit their fitness level. That means either increasing the frequency and intensity of the exercise, or increasing the level of difficulty of the exercise.

What does this mean for you if you have arthritis? It means getting access to programs that  make sense in the real world. Follow strategies for exercise that fit your goals and needs and use vibration therapy exercises as one component of your overall program. At vibrationexercise.com, we have training programs that provide step by step instructions on what to do. The best part is that with a membership, you can have access to doctors and trainers that have had extensive experience in vibration therapy.

Vibration therapy may reduce progression of knee arthritis

At around the same time the above whole body vibration therapy research came out, another vibration research study looked at the effects of vibration therapy exercise on cell markers that are usually present when one has osteoarthritis. In simple terms, although we know that arthritis is the result of a breakdown of your bones over time, there is an ‘inflammation’ component also. If you have arthritis, you’ll see that there are certain cells that increase. These cells are called TCD4+ cells. The researchers found that 12 weeks of vibration therapy decreased the proliferation of TCD4+ cells. This led to the conclusion that vibration therapy may minimize the progression of arthritis.

The results in this study, like any study, should be taken in the context of an overall picture, rather than taking results at face value. In this study, the intensity of the whole body vibration platform was higher. The frequency of treatment was 3 times per week, compared to 2 times per week. The study also took into consideration with the fact that exercises need to become more difficult to prevent adaptation to the exercise. In essence, the progression seemed to mimic real world strategies. In addition, there is no real explanation on how vibration therapy helped decrease the inflammatory cells. There are several possible explanations. One is that it helped strengthen and stabilize the muscles around the joint, which would make the area stronger and produce less frictional stresses to the joint.

Whatever the case, it would appear the vibration therapy has shown some benefits to those with arthritis. The real focus should be on understanding that vibration therapy is just exercise. It’s a form of exercise. We know through a vast amount of research and clinical experience that strengthening exercises are beneficial to those with arthritis. Vibration exercise is no different. What makes vibration therapy stand out is it’s ability to generate muscle contractions and exercise ‘effects’ in less time and with less stress on the joints. We are also able to do things with vibration exercise that we may not have been able to do with conventional exercise programs. Namely, the ability to start an intense strengthening program a lot earlier in the rehabilitation program. What does this all mean for you if you have arthritis? It means if you find regular training painful or unable to move into a wide range of motions, vibration therapy exercises may be something you can start with. It means if you don’t have time to exercise or are unable to exercise for a longer period of time, whole body vibration therapy exercises may be right for you. Whatever the case, clinical experience has taught us that vibration therapy truly does help those with arthritis.

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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Dr. Jasper Sidhu says November 2, 2014

hi Samuel

Vibration is great for post hip replacement, but get clearance from your physician on when to start. I usually recommend 6 to 8 weeks, or at least when you’re able to weight bear and begin a strength training program. There’s research on knee replacements and vibration training after 6 weeks, but the one for hip replacement is for those that had hip replacements over a year before.

With my patients, i usually have them sitting on a chair and placing their feet on a vibration platform to begin getting an increase in circulation. There’s also a subtle stimulus that transfers upwards, that may help with bone healing. But at this stage, there should NOT be any exercise that directly impacts the healing of the hip replacement. Do your regular exercises as instructed by your physical therapist and get clearance to begin vibration training at least 6 to 8 weeks after. hope that helps. Let me know if you have any other questions

You can read more about vibration and hip replacements here

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