The scientifically proven effects of vibration massage- with clinical applications

When you use vibration massage what do the vibrations actually do? This article discusses the many scientifically proven effects, and what these effects may be useful for. This information helps work out whether vibration massage will be of benefit, and helps clinicians work out the best therapy for their patients or clients. We'll go through each of the effects, plus the best frequencies to use and some clinical applications. This is all referenced with a large list of sources below. We'll finish with some practical advice on how to use this therapy. For a summary please see our video

Contents

Increasing blood flow
Relaxing muscles
Reduces pain
Inhibits spasm and cramps (trigger points and elite stretching)
"Stretches" muscles
Decreases post exercise soreness and speeds recovery
Increase performance
Practical advice on using vibration massage

Normal therapeutic applications of vibration have been shown to significantly increase blood flow (3)⁠ (4)⁠ (5)⁠. In one trial vibrations both 30 and 50 Hz were shown to substantially increase peripheral blood flow, with 50 Hz giving the superior results, having a more rapid and longer lasting effect. 30 Hz vibration slowly increased blood flow, which lasted for about 7 minutes. 50 Hz increased blood flow more rapidly, and was still increased 15 minutes later.

Vibration frequencies

Best vibration frequencies to invrease blood flow

Scientists measure the frequency of vibrations in Hz (cycles per second). To keep it simple, scientist found the best effects at from 30-50 Hz, which is approximately 80-90% of full speed on one of our General Purpose Massagers.

Vibration frequencies for our General Purpose Massager

Various studies have shown that the application of vibration massage in the range of 20-60 Hz causes muscles to relax. This is the therapeutic range our massagers work in. Vibrations from 100-200 Hz have been shown to cause muscles to contract (1)⁠.

Clinical applications of increasing blood flow and relaxing muscles

The relaxation of muscles and increasing blood flow are the cornerstone of most types of massage therapy, whether it is simple relaxation, relieving tight tired muscles after a hard day's work, or as part of a rehabilitation program.

Best vibration frequency for this

Science tells us that vibration massage does this well, especially at around 50 Hz (90% of full speed on a General Purpose Massager).

The main way vibration massage helps reduce pain is to help address the causes of pain, such as tight sore muscles and trigger points (tender lumps in muscles). However, the application of stimulation at 100 Hz has been shown to neurologically block pain, which is the same principle used by a TENS machine (8). As an example, a trial showed that repeated applications of 100 Hz massage to the distal quadriceps muscles (just above the knee) produced a considerable reduction of symptoms in those with osteoarthritis of the knees (9)⁠. Our Dr Graeme Massagers do not run at this frequency. Apart from the issues relating to masking pain rather than addressing the cause, as previously stated 100 Hz causes muscles to contract (tighten) rather than relax.

Cramps and spasms are caused by neurological reflexes. These are generally useful. As an example stretch reflexes stimulate your muscles to tighten when rapid or excessive stretching is detected. This is an excellent protective mechanism that prevents muscles from being overstretched and damaged. However, these can "lock on" abnormally in the case of muscle cramps or spasms, and is a core problem in (myofascial) trigger points: arguably the most common cause of conditions such as back, neck and shoulder pain.

Vibration in the range of 30-50 Hz has been shown to temporarily suppress this reflex (1, 10). The main use of this is for the treatment of trigger points (see clinical applications to the right (or below on a mobile).

"Elite" stretching

Gymnasts have also used the application of 30 Hz vibration to inhibit the stretch reflex, achieving superior results when stretching (15)⁠. What they did was temporarily shut down the body's protective mechanism against overstretching. This may have merit for elite gymnasts in a controlled setting, but otherwise not something we would recommend.

Clinical application: trigger points

Trigger points are arguably the most common cause of musculoskelatal pain such as back, neck and shoulder pain. They are those tender lumps in muscles that shoot pain when pressed upon. Scientists have found that to treat these you need to:

  • disrupt the muscle spasm
  • relax the muscle, and
  • increase blood flow

Vibration massage is an extremely effective treatment because it is scientifically proven to address all three issues at once.

Stretching exercises are done to lengthen muscles to their proper operational length. This allows full movement and efficient function of the muscles. Clinical trials show that the application of vibration of 40-50 Hz produces a similar lengthening of muscles. There are two situations where this would be extremely useful.

To protect an injury

An example would be while an injured ankle was healing. Conventional stretches could no be used as they would further damage the joint, however, vibration could be applied to the calf muscles to prevent them shortening.

Where it is difficult to stretch

An example would be parts of the spine. Your spine is made of a chain of links. If one link is stiff it is practically impossible to isolate a stretch to that link only, however, a vibration massager can easily apply very localised vibration.

Strenuous exercise causes microscopic damage to your muscles. This results in post exercise soreness (also known as DOMS- delayed onset muscle soreness), and your muscles will suffer a loss of performance until recovered. Clinical trials (16-22) have shown that the application of vibration from 30-65 Hz either before or after exercise will result in:

  • less soreness
  • a reduction in blood chemicals that result from cell membrane damage, tissue necrosis and muscle cell damage
  • a reduction in the temporary loss of muscle performance.

Clinical applications of decreasing post exercise soreness and speeding recovery

Everyone who works out or plays sports seriously will suffer stiffness and soreness after. Vibration massage does exactly what your muscles need: relaxes them and stimulated blood flow to flush the wastes and bring in nutrients. These clinical trials show that if you use a massager before, after and during recovery you will likely be far less sore and recover faster. This is simple to do and has practically no ongoing cost.

For further information check out our video below, or our Sports and Exercise Guide

The application of vibration has been shown to enable the nervous system to stimulate more receptors in muscles, both in number and type. The result is higher maximum contraction force and increased muscular effort. (23)⁠ This should be of interest to anyone who wishes to achieve greater performance, such as those who play sport or work out in a gym. A research summary (23)⁠ found 21 published trials covering this area. The protocols and vibration frequencies used varied widely. However, in general they found that the lower frequencies (5-50 Hz) used short duration applications compared with those for higher frequencies. They also found that better results were achieved by applying the vibration directly to the muscles rather than via indirect methods such as having the weight being lifted vibrate.

Practical advice on using vibration massage

Physical penetration vs vibration

Using a massager

Please see our article How to use a hand held massager. The main issue we see is that vibration massagers are designed to use their vibrating head to send vibrations deep into the muscles, but many people still think they have to push the head in or move it around. As the diagram shows this is a bit like using axe techniques with a chain saw.

Massage gun / percussion massager warning

Please also note here that with massage guns or percussion massagers the vibrations are designed to drive their heads in rather than deliver vibrations. This is a marketing gimmick claimed to increase penetration, but all it does is reduce their ability to deliver effective vibrations while making them more dangerous.

Choosing the right equipment

We've got a separate article on how to choose a massager. In college clinic we had a large G5 machine that was very effective, but they were very expensive and made our hands go numb using it. There are some reasonable machines about, but as discussed above don't get a massage gun, and a lot the personal use machines are very poor. As we mention below, if you are a professional in Australia, New Zealand, the UK or Europe contact us for professional rates and possibly a sample machine to test.

Professionals

DrGraeme massagers were originally built by Dr Graeme for use in his clinic, and to prescribe to his patients for additional self use at home. Now these are used by colleagues and other professionals for similar purposes. If you are a professional and wish to know more about this therapy, or possibly get a sample massager to trial please check out our practitioner page.

References

1. Poenaru D, Cinteza D, Petrusca I, Cioc L, Dumitrascu D. Local Application of Vibration in Motor Rehabilitation - Scientific and Practical Considerations. Maedica (Buchar)
2. Inaba R, Furuno T, Okada A. Effects of low- and high-frequency local vibration on the occurrence of intimal thickening of the peripheral arteries of rats. Scand J Work Environ Heal. 1988;14(5):312–6.
3. Lohman EB, Petrofsky JS, Maloney-Hinds C, Betts-Schwab H, Thorpe D. The effect of whole body vibration on lower extremity skin blood flow in normal subjects. Med Sci Monit. 2007;
4. Maloney-Hinds C, Petrofsky JS, Zimmerman G. The effect of 30 Hz vs. 50 Hz passive vibration and duration of vibration on skin blood flow in the arm. Med Sci Monit . 2008;14(3):CR112-6.
5. Nakagami G, Sanada H, Matsui N, Kitagawa A, Yokogawa H, Sekiya N, et al. Effect of vibration on skin blood flow in an in vivo microcirculatory model. Biosci Trends. 2007;1(3):161–6.
6. DrGraeme. The presence and treatment of myofascial trigger points in chronic shoulder pain DrGraeme.com. 2018.
7. Bron C, De Gast A, Dommerholt J, Stegenga B, Wensing M, Oostendorp RAB. Treatment of myofascial trigger points in patients with chronic shoulder pain: A randomized, controlled trial. BMC Med. 2011;9.
8. Lundeberg T. Long-term results of vibratory stimulation as a pain relieving measure for chronic pain. Pain. 1984;20(1):13–23.
9. Rabini A, De Sire A, Marzetti E, Gimigliano R, Ferriero G, Piazzini DB, et al. Effects of focal muscle vibration on physical functioning in patients with knee osteoarthritis: a randomized controlled trial. Eur J Phys Rehabil Med. 2015;
10. Noma T, Matsumoto S, Etoh S, Shimodozono M, kawahira K. Anti-spastic effects of the direct application of vibratory stimuli to the spastic muscles of hemiplegic limbs in post-stroke patients. Brain Inj. 2009;23(7–8):623–31.
11. Bakhtiary AH, Fatemi E, Khalili MA, Ghorbani R. Localised application of vibration improves passive knee extension in women with apparent reduced hamstring extensibility: A randomised trial. J Physiother. 2011;
12. Atha J, Ph D, Wheatley DW, Sc B. JOINT MOBILITY CHANGES DUE TO LOW FREQUENCY VIBRATION AND STRETCHING EXERCISE Br J Sports Med March. 1974;26–35.
13. BIERMAN W. INFLUENCE OF CYCLOID VIBRATION MASSAGE ON TRUNK FLEXION. Am J Phys Med Rehabil. 2006;
14. Hinman MR, Lundy R, Perry E, Robbins K, Viertel L. Comparative effect of ultrasound and deep oscillation on the extensibility of hamstring muscles. J Athl Med. 2013;
15. SANDS WA, MCNEAL JR, STONE MH, RUSSELL EM, JEMNI M. Flexibility Enhancement with Vibration. Med Sci Sport Exerc. 2006;38(4):720–5.
16. Kim J-Y, Kang D-H, Lee J-H, O S-M, Jeon J-K. The effects of pre-exercise vibration stimulation on the exercise-induced muscle damage. J Phys Ther Sci. 2017;29(1):119–22.
17. Imtiyaz S, Veqar Z, Shareef MY. To compare the effect of vibration therapy and massage in prevention of delayed onset muscle soreness (DOMS). J Clin Diagnostic Res. 2014;
18. Bakhtiary AH, Safavi-Farokhi Z, Aminian-Far A. Influence of vibration on delayed onset of muscle soreness following eccentric exercise. Br J Sports Med. 2007;
19. Kamandani R, Ghazalian F, Ebrahim K, Ghassembaglou N, Shiri Piraghaj M, Khorram A. The Effect of Acute Vibration Training on Delayed Onset Muscle Soreness in Young Non-Athlete Women. Heal Scope. 2015;
20. Broadbent S, Rousseau JJ, Thorp RM, Choate SL, Jackson FS, Rowlands DS. Vibration therapy reduces plasma IL6 and muscle soreness after downhill running. Br J Sports Med. 2010;44(12):888–94.
21. Lau WY, Nosaka K. Effect of vibration treatment on symptoms associated with eccentric exercise-induced muscle damage. Am J Phys Med Rehabil. 2011;
22. Veqar Z, Imtiyaz S. Vibration therapy in management of delayed onset muscle soreness. J Clin Diagnostic Res. 2014;8(6):10–3.
23. Germann D, El Bouse A, Shnier J, Abdelkader N, Kazemi M, Germann D, et al. Effects of local vibration therapy on various performance parameters: a narrative literature review. J Can Chiropr Assoc. 2018;62(3).
24. Gentili S, Uccioli L, Mugnaini S, Lella D, Richetta M, Magrini A. EFFECTS OF LOCAL VIBRATION THERAPY ON LOWER LIMB ’ S SENSORIMOTOR CONTROL IN WORKERS SUFFERING FROM DIABETIC FOOT – STATE OF ARTS AND STUDY ON A NEW PREVENTION AND THERAPEUTIC SYSTEM .
25. Weinheimer-Haus EM, Judex S, Ennis WJ, Koh TJ. Low-intensity vibration improves angiogenesis and wound healing in diabetic mice. PLoS One. 2014;9(3):3–10.
26. MEI R, XU Y, LI Q. Experimental Study on Mechanical Vibration Massage for Treatment of Brachial Plexus Injury in Rats. J Tradit Chinese Med. 2010;

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Dr Graeme

About Dr Graeme

Several years ago Dr Graeme, a Chiropractor practicing in Victoria, Australia was looking for a serious hand held massager his patients could use at home to get the extra quality massage they needed. The ones he found in the shops and on-line for home use looked nice but were not serious, and... read more



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