Whole body vibration, or WBV is popular in the fitness, health, and beauty industries. It involves standing stationary or doing exercises on a motorized platform that vibrates at different frequencies and amplitudes (basically, different speeds and intensities).
Research on the benefits of whole body vibration are mixed, but a significant number of studies point to definite benefits including increased muscle strength, increased blood circulation to the leg muscles and skin, increased bone density, reduced muscle atrophy following bed rest and in space, improved postural control in older individuals, and reduced chronic lower back pain. However, at least one study warns of potential adverse health effects of “excessive” whole body vibration training.
The WBV machine consists of a platform, handle grips and control panel. You do exercises like squats with both feet on the platform, or alternating lunges with the front foot placed on the platform while it vibrates at a set frequency. Depending on the model, a WBV machine can vibrate in the z-axis (or straight up and down direction– most intense), x and y axis (front to back, side to side), or teeter-totter (like a seesaw action). Amplitude (height differential of the platform in one vibrational cycle) and frequency (number of cycles per second).
Two popular models are the durable, commercial-grade PowerFit VB588 Whole Body Vibration Machine and the less expensive but lower quality home use model, PowerFit PFM002. If money is not an option, you can get the Power Plate – Pro5 – Model 565273 which is the brand that is found in exclusive fitness centers throughout the world.
There are generally three classifications of whole body vibration machines: High Energy Lineal, found mostly in commercial vibration training studios and gyms. The vibration direction is lineal/upward eliciting a strong stretch-reflex contraction in muscle fibres targeted by the positions of training program. 2. Premium Speed Pivotal, (teeter-totter movement) used for physiotherapy work at lower speeds and exercise workouts at “premium” speed, up to 27 Hz. Both commercial and home units are available. 3. Medium Energy Lineal, the majority of lineal platforms produced. These are usually made of plastic; some have 3-D vibration which is low quality. They give slower and less consistent results. 4. Low Speed Pivotal units. These can give “therapy” benefits. Other machine types are low Energy/Low amplitude lineal and Low energy/High amplitude lineal with varying uses from osteoporosis prevention, therapy for improved blood circulation and flexibility and limited fitness training. I am not certain if this classification system is used by the various manufacturers of WBV machines.
So, should you try whole body vibration if you have chronic back pain? My advice is to check with your doctor first. If you are cleared by your doctor, start conservatively– low amplitude, and only for a minute or two; standing only. Take note of how you feel. Most of the studies done thus far on these machines involved fairly extensive time periods, like 6-12 weeks of daily usage, so if you plan to use WBV to reduce back pain your body needs to be able to take it. If you are able to work up to 5-10 minutes on the machine without feeling nauseous, more pain, dizzy or any other adverse symptom, do it for a week and re-evaluate. If all is OK, try exercises like simple squats on the platform. If you feel improvement in your lower back pain, then congratulations, your particular situation responds to whole body vibration. However, there are no studies that I am aware of that track the long-term effects of WBV therapy on chronic lower back pain. So, a good rule of thumb is to do it daily for at least two weeks, symptoms permitting; and then do it less periodically for maintenance. Obviously, at the first onset of any adverse reaction from using WBV, stop immediately and report it to your doctor.
Some of the possible ways whole body vibration resistance exercises can help reduce back pain is by increasing blood flow to the muscles, exercising the muscles, and bombarding sensory input to the back muscles thereby breaking any “learned” abnormal neurological patterns to the muscles.
Even if you don’t have back pain, whole body vibration offers other proven health benefits like improved blood circulation, decreased muscle weakness from body inactivity, and improved postural balance. It would therefore make a nice addition to your home exercise equipment.