September 23, 2014

Vibration Training for Balance and Stability

Recently, the abstract of a new study appeared on pubmed.org under the search term “whole body vibration”. What was unique about this study was that it didn’t involve a whole body vibration platform, but rather a device called a Vibrosphere which works much differently. The Vibrosphere is a disk shaped device that serves as an unstable surface for the purposes of balance and stability training. There are many devices available that are similar to the Vibrosphere, including wobble boards, dynadiscs, and bosu balls, but what makes this device unique is that it has the ability to vibrate at high frequencies. In this particular study, the vibration created an additional benefit for the subjects involved. The parameters that were improved in these individuals were trunk stability, postural control, and muscle tone.

In reviewing this study, and adding it to the multiple studies already published on the subject of the effects of vibration training on balance and stability, it is evident that the sensory component of vibration, perhaps regardless of the frequency, amplitude, or the resulting acceleration, may be all that is needed to enhance one’s balance and stability.

So how does the sensory input from a vibrating device actually influence the balance system of the human body? In the body, balance is a reflection of three key components. These include:

1)      The Proprioceptive System (within the skin, ligaments, muscles, and tendons)

2)      The Vestibular system (located in the inner ear),

3)      The Visual system.

When it comes to vibration training however, it is the first component, the proprioceptive system, which is of most significance. The proprioceptive system is responsible for what we refer to as  “proprioception”; more commonly referred to as “body awareness”. An example of an individual with excellent proprioception would be a ballet dancer. By definition, proprioception is  “the sense of the relative position of the neighboring parts of the body”. The better the proprioception that we possess, the more accurate our movements are and the better we are able to respond to changes in the position of our bodies during movement (i.e. falling backward or forward, balancing on one leg, walking on a rough surface etc.).

Anatomically, the proprioceptive system is a complex matrix of sensory neurons, referred to as mechanoreceptors, located throughout the body. In our discussion here it is the mechanoreceptors located within and around the joints and muscles that we are most interested in. Mechanoreceptors are responsible for sending information to the brain regarding the various mechanical sensations that our bodies experience during our day-to-day activities  or during exercise. Among the sensations picked up by mechanoreceptors during vibration training are pressure (in the form of compression), stretch (tension), and motion (lengthening and/or shortening of tissue). These sensations are also experienced  to a lesser extent during everyday activities such as walking, climbing stairs, and running. This is why training repeatedly with superimposed vibration causes the mechanoreceptors to become more finely tuned. This leads to a more precise response from the central nervous system and a resulting increase in the precision and efficiency of our movements. This “learning response” represents the concept of neuroplasticity; the process by which the brain learns on a cellular level. In the words of Donald O. Hebb, “neurons that fire together, wire together”  therefore improving the efficiency of their communication.

To go into the details of how receptors communicate with the brain is a conversation reserved for neurophysiologists. So for the purposes of simplifying it for this article, when information is received by a mechanoreceptor, that information is sent to the spinal cord via the peripheral nerves and carried through the spinal cord along specific tracts to the brain.  The brain’s response to this information can occur on many levels. For example, it can reduce activity of a muscle (relax it), cause a muscle to contract (tense it), or decrease/increase the sensitivity of the receptors to further sensory feedback (mute or dampen it). In the case of a sedentary individual, the reduced sensory input, a reflection of less physical activity, causes the brain to decrease the sensitivity of the mechanoreceptors. This therefore reduces the individual’s precision and speed of movement in response to an unstable surface. As a result, the risk of falling increases for this individual. Combine this with the increased predisposition to osteoporosis among the same population  and you can understand why fractures rank among the highest reported injuries in the elderly population. In another example, an athlete with poor mechanoreceptor sensitivity will respond ineffectively to the rapid joint movements, heavy muscular tensions, and repeated connective tissue stretching that they are exposed to during sport. This inevitably leads to tissue damage, pain, and inflammation and is the primary mechanism behind most overuse injuries seen in athletes today.

Still want evidence that these pathways exist? In another study published in the Journal of Sports Medicine and Physical Fitness, a vibrating upper body dumbbell created by the same company that created the Galileo vibration platform was used to assess the influence of vibration on electrical activity in the brain. The electrical activity was monitored using a technique referred to as transcranial magnetic stimulation (TMS). To simplify the results of the study and the conclusions drawn from the results, the vibrating dumbbell, in contrast to a non-vibrating dumbbell, demonstrated the ability to increase excitability of the motor cortex. This phenomenon therefore lends direct support to the idea that vibration, through the mechanoreceptor pathways, can directly stimulate the areas in the brain associated with balance, stability, and movement.

We can no longer ignore the unbelievable and groundbreaking impact that vibration training has on improving balance and stability in the human body. What is even more exciting however, is that recent studies have begun to demonstrate that vibration is in fact directly influencing the brain. Up to this point, the focus on the stretch reflex, a reflex that occurs only on the spinal cord level, has prevented us from looking upward . It is time for vibration training and our understanding of the mechanisms behind it to evolve . Considering this century will be dedicated to better understanding the brain, it is a “no-brainer” that an understanding of vibration training will move right alongside it.

Comments

  1. Very exciting research! Terrific article that shares the “unbelievable” impact vibration training has to improve balance and stability. The exciting thing is it doesn’t end there! Add in muscle toning and improved sense of wellness, just to name a couple results typically seen, and like Gabriel mentions, it’s a “no-brainer.”

  2. Another great article Gabriel.

    I agree that we have so many benefits yet to be realized from this technology. I have noted improvement in clients with dementia and similar neurological disorders and cant wait to see what lies ahead.

    Debby

  3. dan pelletier says:

    Very informative article Gabriel, appreciate the time taken to present this often overlooked aspect to vibration platform use.

    For those who may have a pivotal platform already, here are a couple of activities to try.

    Balance frequencies typically used on a pivotal platform are in the slower range, anywhere from 3-9 hz.

    Stand with feet equal distance apart, for those with amplitude markers use a 2-4 which will vary in displacement depending on the unit you are using. The greater the distance the more challenging it becomes.

    Bend knees so you are in a light squat and try not to hold on but keep hands close to a stabalizing handle and if you need to start with a light hold. If this is to easy, try without visualization (close your eyes). Want to make it more difficult? Try it using only 1 foot.

    Another great balance excersize is to use both feet as above and raise your heels to a calf raise position with a light bend in the knee and try the same.

    Your on you way to improving your balance and stability.

    Thanks again Gabriel.

  4. Great recommendations Dan. The use of visual field and sensory feedback changes (eyes closed and reduced contact by standing on the toes) go very far with balance training on vibration platforms. Also quite challenging!

  5. Murray Seaton says:

    Nice article Gabriel,

    A small nitpick on Dan’s recommendations.

    Balance training is a double edged sword with pivotal machines. On one hand feet wider apart produces more displacement and as a result greater displacement from the centre of gravity. On the other hand, a wider feet placement provides greater stability.

    For this reason, wouldn’t you agree that the most challenging feet placement for balance is a compromise between these two factors?

    Following Dan’s other recommendations, a great way Glenn describes it, is that the least amount of contact you have with the platform, the more challenging it becomes, i.e. both feet > both feet toes > one foot > one foot toes.

  6. Good points Murray. The wider the base of support on the platform (on two feet), the easier it is to maintain standing balance. The progression you mentioned is certainly the best way to go with regards to balance training on vibration platforms. Only thing to add to the progression is that after you are on one foot on toes, THEN, you start moving towards higher amplitudes for progression.

    On the other side of things, as Dan mentioned, altering visual feedback through head and/or trunk rotation or by closing the eyes are other ways to go when balance training. With these techniques, wider stances can still be quite challenging for those with significant balance impariments. This might also be selected when strength or pain limitations prohibit the person from standing on one leg or one foot on toes.

  7. Don Thom says:

    Gabriel et all

    A week ago my wife and I took delivery of a Hypervibe ‘Performance’ to add to our home gym. This came about after visiting this web site several times and doing some other research. Great work, by the way

    As a golfer I am looking for stability, strength, and flexibility; Bev is looking for toning, joint mobilization and increased bone density She is a workout nut

    So far the ‘vibration experience’ is all we expected it would be, and more, except for one hopefully minor problem//

    We both are having problems with ‘head vibration’ doing the Plank exercises. When finished, we both feel like we have had a slight concussion, head pressure and a dull headache it takes about 24 hours to clear up

    I play the stock market and Mueller will say that is the problem, but its not; I’m short and having a good day today

    Is it possible that we are starting at too high a level for people new at body vibration, 19 HZ – 30 sec
    To the best of our knowledge, we are using the machine as the manual and dvd direct

    Your thoughts and suggestions would be appreciated

    Tks

    Dt

  8. Hi Don,

    Good question. It takes most some time to become comfortable with this pose. Good thing is there are a couple of things you can do to change this position up to make it comfortable for anyone. Frequency is not likely the issue.

    1) When placing forearms onto the platform try to bring them closer together. Chances are the amplitude your landing at is outside of the 2 and closer to 3 or 4. This can be to aggressive for newer users and many long term users as well so try and see if you can place them at a 2 or right together at a 1.

    2) Reverse the pose, forearms on the ground and feet on the platform, start at about a 2 with your foot position and if it is to strong and you are unable to stablize your feet bring them closer together.

    3) Push up pose vrs. forearms down. Like this one, to keep challenging yourself once your able to hold standard plank for a minute or two, try raising one foot for half the duration and switch. Increase duration upto 2 minutes.

    Also, you can dampen to a certain degree with the use of a towel folded over a couple of times or a foam mat such as a yoga mat again folded to increase the density if required.

    Hope this helps,

    Dan

    • Don Thom says:

      Dan

      Thanks for the suggestions, will give them a try

      DT

    • Don,

      Dan has made some good recommendations. I have found the best results (and tolerance) for this position is when you combine mats (to dampen) with a closer forearm position (1-2).

      One thing to keep in mind is that with the plank you are really taking a traditional plank and adding the instability of the platform movement to increase the level of difficulty. Although the upper body is reacting to the movement of the platform, it is dramatically different than standing or squatting on the platform.

      When it comes down to it, most people cannot hold a plank on the ground, let alone on a vibration platform. With this in mind, I also recommend using a low frequency (6-7 hz) along with the recommendations above so that you are forced to stabilize while holding the plank. It is much more tolerable than the higher frequencies. Once you are okay with this, move slowly upward in frequency.

      • Don Thom says:

        Gabriel

        Thanks for the note; holding the ‘plank’ is not a problem but I agree with the observations that as newvies, we were being far too aggressive, both in frequency and hand position.

        Also, this is allergy season, at least here in southern Ontario, and although I am going to do some more self testing, I have the feeling that any head or sinus conjestion would have a dramatic effect on one’s wellbeing, when combined vibration excercises that involve shaking of the head and neck

        Thanks again

        DT

  9. Generally, from my experience, vibration training can have a very positive effect on head and sinus congestion as it gets things “moving”. As far as strength goes, suffering from congestion often causes reduced strength so you need to progress slowly.

    Best of luck with your program.

  10. Deborah Dunbar says:

    I am a new – “New-be”. I need help on how to start (other than buying a platform). I am 56 yo, over weight, good health but in poor condition. The manuals that will be delivered will most probably assume a person in much better shape and probably quite a bit younger – so am asking this august body for help. In short – were do I go for a reasonable, aggressive for my age/condition, but doable work-out routine/schedule?

  11. Hi Deborah,

    I am not 100% clear on your question. Let me ask you two questions:

    1) Where are you located?

    2) Are you looking for someone to show you a program to use at home with a platform that you have purchased or for a studio where you can do regular vibration training under supervision?

  12. Hi Vibration Training:

    I have a prospective new client…who is interested in a Hypervibe. He is 60 years old…. 6′ 6″….weighs 320 lbs…..He is a professional “Power” Lifter…….is very activity lifting everyday….who lifts over 500lbs…just to warm up!!….. He is interested in the HV for increasing his metabolism ….increasing his flexiblity….for warm up and cool downs….and for the massage effects/lymphatic drainage/lactic acid bulid up relief. However….a Big…However…he has a pacemaker….since 2006….. because his heart would slow down to 25 beats a minute while sleeping….the doctor thought it was too low….and now he has the pacemaker….. He runs but not that frequently.

    I know a pacemaker is a contraindication to using vibration machines…however…since he is very active with his weight lifting and is goals are as mentioned above…..I was wondering if he could use the Hypervibe…. at all….or just on certain speeds or just doing certain positions?

    I truly value your opinion on this!!

    Many Thanks!
    Pamela

    • Hi Pam,

      Unfortunately, at this point, a pacemaker is considered an absolute contraindication and we cannot recommend you use it with this individual. I, personally, have had quite a few people with pacemakers who I am sure would have benefited greatly from vibration training. Unfortunately, the “unknowns” with pacemakers make the risk too great.

      • Hi Gabriel

        Thanks so much for responding so quickly! I truly appreciate your time and your expertise!! Great to know we can come to vibrationtraining.net and get our questions answered….get help and find helpful tips!

        Warm Regards,

        Pamela

  13. I have a client that has prostate cancer. He has a tumor and his physician is suggesting that he not use our Vibration machines for fear of his condition getting worse. We have a VIBO DVD that he watched and suggests otherwise. I want to point this person in the right direction and give him the best possible advice…..what do you suggest?

    Enthusiastically,

    Rita

    • Hi Rita,

      Unfortunately, in the US (and most parts of the world), active cancer is considered a contraindication to vibration training. Whether or not this makes any sense or is grounded in any real logic is a whole other argument. It will be some time before anything changes however so, in the meantime, the MD makes the call.

  14. Hi Vibration Training.net

    I have a few questions for you….for potiental clients….

    Is WBV good for Gout?? in legs/feet?….do you get Gout anywhere else?

    Is WBV good for Bi-Polar/Manic Depression?

    and last question….I have a client who is interested in WBV….. She has “Factor 5 Deficiency”….which showed up 12 years ago….they said she most likely has had it since she was born….this condition she told me….is a blood problem in which she can form blood clots….she is on Warfarin and she has her blood levels checked regularly. She has not had a blood clot for 2 years plus now…..However….

    She went to her Doctor and he as approved her to use WBV….and she said he would give her a prescription/recommendation for WBV (he is a Chinese Doctor and she said she feels….he seems to be aware of alternative treatments like WBV)…. However…. I want to double check…. Do you have any info….about Factor 5 Deficiency and WBV?….. She wants for get a machine for her Chronic Fatigue Syndrome/Fibromyalgia and Arthritis which I know WBV can help…

    Thanks for looking into this for me! I truly appreciate your time and knowledge!

    Pamela

    • Hi Pamela,

      We try to stick to the science here so…..

      1) no research on gout so cannot say if it will or will not help. If the person has active gout, it may be quite painful though so be cautious. Personal comment is that if the person has a history of gout, getting healthier with regular exercise certainly cannot hurt.

      2) Definately no studies on bi-polar/manic depression so, once again, cannot comment. Sorry.

      3) 3 strikes…no information on factor 5 and wbv. Bottom line is that WBV is contraindicated when someone has a clot. Not a problem if there is a history of clots and the doctor gives his approval. If she has the clots under control, is being monitored, and her doctor is willing to “keep an eye” on things, she should do well.

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