Technology used in the 1970s to keep Soviet cosmonauts in outer space for a longer period of time is being used right here on Earth for an array of physical benefits—from alleviating chronic pain and fighting osteoporosis to treating neurological disorders and helping athletes perform better and recover faster.
It’s no magic bullet to replace more traditional forms of exercise, but decades of studies indicate this simple routine can improve physical health by shaking the body’s inner core.
Vibration plate therapy uses a large pulsating slab that, simply put, rattles wellness into the body. The procedure helps build muscle and bone mass, stimulate metabolism and increase the body’s capacity to burn fat and cellulite, advocates of the wellness practice say.
Sheree DiBiase, owner of Lake City Physical Therapy, says vibration therapy is popular among people of all ages and fitness levels because of the wide-ranging physical benefits and relatively simple nature of the low-impact workout.
“It enhances strength and muscle activation, causing gains in lean tissue,” says DiBiase, who offers vibration therapy at her offices in Coeur d’Alene and Hayden. “It actually helps to promote lean muscle mass, which can create more bone mass.”
Reaping the physiological benefits is as simple as standing on the vibration platform for about 15 minutes, usually several times a week. Users can supplement the standing session by performing squats, lifting weights or stretching while strong pulses vibrate the body.
As the machine shakes, it transmits energy to the body, forcing muscles to contract and relax dozens of times each second. The result, according to a study in the Journal of Athletic Training, is the stimulation of bone formation, which results in improved bone strength.
“It’s kind of a crazy way to train without so much of a load on the system,” DiBiase says.
For example, people working out with heavy weights can damage joints and muscles. But with vibration therapy, lighter weights can be used with similar results “so you don’t have to lift as much and you get faster results,” DiBiase says.
She continued: “When people work out, especially at high anaerobic levels, lactic acid builds up in the system, which causes inflammation and results in muscle fatigue and soreness.” Vibration therapy accelerates the elimination of lactic acid in the system, allowing the body to heal more quickly.
This is particularly beneficial to high-level athletes because buildup of lactic acid impedes performance. “With the vibration plate, you can work at a higher level because your body is actually dumping all those lactic acids that are building up,” DiBiase says.
With the plates moving in three different directions, vibration therapy challenges the body’s “balance sensors,” improving sense of balance as joints, muscles and bones receive rapid-fire data, allowing neurological systems to operate more efficiently.
Vibration therapy can also help alleviate chronic pain because pulsating sensations travel up the spinal cord allowing tensed muscles to relax, alleviating discomfort, according to Healthline Media, Inc. a privately owned provider of national health information.
In space, zero-gravity situations accelerate the loss of bone mass, which can cause problems for space travelers. Building lean muscle and bone mass through vibration therapy helped Soviet cosmonauts stay in space longer than their American counterparts back in the ‘70s, DiBiase says.
“With vibration therapy, the cosmonauts were able to stay in space 420 days while the U.S. astronauts were only staying 120 days,” she says.
Findings such as the Soviet study increased interest and awareness of vibration therapy in the U.S., with a growing number of health-orientated businesses offering the therapy, including the Salvation Army Kroc Center in Coeur d’Alene.
Since the Kroc introduced vibration therapy about three years ago, there have been more than 16,000 recorded sessions, says Kroc wellness manager Kevin Nelson, who echoed the physical findings cited by DiBiase.
“The biggest benefit I’ve seen is the building of bone mass, which can be especially helpful for folks dealing with osteoporosis,” says Nelson, a personal trainer with over 35 years of experience.
Older folks are drawn to the unique therapy because of its relatively low impact on the body. “It’s pretty easy to stand on a machine; it’s not that magic bullet, but it’s a good supplement to a routine workout,” Nelson says.
While the ability to strengthen and build bone mass is appealing to an older demographic most commonly suffering from fragile bones, Nelson says a diverse group of Kroc members—from 18 to 80—use the machine.
“Users run the full gamut, from the older population who want to work on balance and bone strength to athletes who want to improve physical performance,” Nelson says.
Nelson adds interest in vibration therapy is growing at Kroc because of the quantifiable results and word-of-mouth testimonials from users pleased with the results.
“It’s definitely a technology that’s going to continue to grow as more and more people become familiar with it and witness, firsthand, the physical benefits,” Nelson says.