Vibration therapy for low back pain: Cause or cure?

vibration therapy for low back pain
Is vibration therapy for low back pain the cure?

Vibration therapy for low back pain sounds contradictory to most doctors and therapists that I talk to. This is usually the case when they are unaware or lack information about the advances in vibration therapy. I was out a few nights ago with a group of orthopedic surgeons and chronic pain specialists. One of the surgeons asked me what I can do for someone with chronic low back pain that has been resistant to their current rehabilitation program. When I recommended vibration therapy for low back pain, some of them began rolling their eyes. This article goes through some of the questions I got from doctors that did not know anything about vibration therapy. It’s a great article to direct your own therapist or doctor if they are unaware of the technology themselves. Here are some of the statements and questions of our conversation:

I thought whole body vibration was the cause of low back pain, not the therapy

It’s obvious that one would jump to this conclusion. Through school, we’ve been taught that ‘whole body vibration’ is a factor in low back pain. Truck drivers that sit for long periods of time get low back pain. Those that use jackhammers tend to develop what we call Raynaud’s Phenomenon. The source of the misinformation comes from the simple fact that some people named this technology whole body vibration, not taking into consideration ‘bad’ whole body vibration.

There is a big difference. Whole body vibration therapy is based on short duration of muscle stimulation through platforms that requires an individual to be in various exercise or rehabilitation positions. Occupational whole body vibration is used hours a day and the results are cumulative over years. Whole body vibration therapy increases circulation while occupational vibration decreases circulation. The original name for this technology was Biomechanical Muscle Stimulation. That would have made more sense.

Vibration therapy sounds too new age for me. Is there any research to validate its effectiveness?

You’ll be surprised that there is a lot of research being conducted in universities and hospitals across the world, with articles being published in peer reviewed journals. There’s been well over 250 articles published within the last 5 years. When you consider the amount of research that is published with various other forms of technology, vibration therapy research is gaining acceptance and credibility. The reason why some doctors may not be aware of the research is because it may not be in the field that they specialize in. Strength journals, rehabilitation journals, and physiology journals are some of the most utilized journals for publishing vibration therapy research.

Is vibration therapy safe for my patients?

Any technology, if used incorrectly, has the risk of causing more harm than good. However, vibration therapy for back pain has been shown to be effective. That’s why we’ve created our vibration membership site. One of the modules we offer is for low back pain. That’s based on years of practical experience and feedback from therapists across the world. We understand that any technology, including vibration therapy for low back pain, requires proper protocols. If a therapist or doctor is aware of proper protocols, there is a greater chance of success.

Why haven’t I heard about vibration therapy for back pain before?

This is always an interesting question. I asked the physicians if they’ve ever heard of pelvic stabilization training for low back pain. Most said no. The point is, we all specialize in our own areas. These are some of the top experts in low back pain surgery. They know more about back surgery than I could ever find out myself. They have their scope of practice, and vibration therapy for low back pain may not be in their scope of practice, although it’s quite evident in the scope of rehabilitation professionals. The best thing to do for any doctor or therapist is to seek out proper information about any new treatment strategy.

This can be done through online research, or simply asking other health professionals in the field about that technology. With the right information out there, more and more health professionals will begin to understand that vibration therapy for low back pain is the cure rather than the cause.

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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Kelli says May 2, 2013

I had a S1/L5 microdiscectomy 6 weeks ago and have just met with the physio to discuss my exercises and rehabilitation. I had a prolapsed disc that left me with severe sciatica causing back pain, leg pain & numbness. I have been unable to do any physical exercise for the last 10 months due to the pain or medication side effects. I am really keen to get fit and well properly and thought that vibration rehab would be a great place to start. Unfortunately my assigned therapist doesn’t know anything about the therapy and has just ruled it out saying no you can’t/shouldn’t do it. Is this just their personal opinion or should I avoid vibration therapy after having this type of surgery?
Many thanks

    Dr. Jasper Sidhu says May 15, 2013

    Hi Kelli

    Vibration isn’t contraindicated for someone like you. I’v had a lot of patients with related issues on a vibration machine. However, there are a few things to consider, and you always need to discuss this further with your therapist, or find one that actually has experience utilizing vibration.

    At your stage of post surgery, it’s wise to listen to your therapist. Only they know your current functional status and understand what exercises you need to progress with to get the best out of your recovery.

    Vibration is effective, but only if you have someone that knows it well and has trained with it. At your stage of healing, vibration would be more effective for circulation. We tend to start patients off with calf and hamstring stretches and deep massages. That way there is no impact to the back at this time. This helps with circulation and flexibility and always done lying down with the calves or hamstrings on the platform.

    If you want to get into strength training, vibration is what i call ‘an early adoption’ of exercise. That means that i can get people doing vibration before they can do more aggressive rehab exercises for strength training. Again, this always depends on your therapist’s knowledge to put you in the right position that is safe.

    For now, listen to your therapist, discuss the stages of healing and where you should be right now. Find out what you are still limited with. Is it pain? Flexibility? Strength? Ask how you are doing at this point in time compared to the general population. If you are on track, continue with your program. To start vibration exercise, just remember that it’s a simple form of strength training but done in less time with less stresses to the joints. If your therapist or physician has cleared you to strength train, you may want to revisit this conversation about vibration training.

    With most people with chronic pain, as long as they are cleared to strength train, vibration exercise is effective if done right. If you don’t have anyone that is knowledgeable, then continue following your therapist’s advice. They have your best interest at stake.

Barney Brady says May 29, 2016

I have a narrowing in the lower spine at L4 and L5. What position do I use on the machine. Standing,bending down? And at what interval? Our gym has 50 to 25 for vibration level. Any info would. Be great

    Dr. Jasper Sidhu says June 1, 2016

    hi Barney, thanks for your question on vibration and low back pain. Unfortunately, having a ‘narrowing in the lower spine’ doesn’t provide me with much information. it depends on what position makes you feel more pain. Is it flexion (bending forward) or extension (arching your back)? Also, from the levels you mention, it sounds like you have a ‘vertical’ machine at the gym. For these type of machines, I’v efound that a 40 to 45 Hertz Frequency is usually the best to get the best muscle activation. However, you have to first ask yourself what your goals are. Is it to increase strength? Get more flexibility? Get less pain? All these will lead to understanding exactly what is the best position or positions to use with vibration. Let me know and we can continue this conversation. Thanks Barney

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