Sunday 5th May, 2024

What are the side effects of vibration massage

A vibrating massager being used
In this article we share the side effects, plus which machines are safer

The potential side effects of vibration massage depends on the type of massager used. Sensible usage of machines that purely provide localised therapeutic vibrations has practically no side effects or adverse effects, while using massagers designed to drive their heads into your muscles can cause adverse effects ranging up to potentially life threatening injury. Also, vibration exposure is considered a work place risk, so vibrating plates that vibrate the whole or large parts of your body have serious issues.

In this article we will discuss what the potential side effects or adverse effects are, which machines are safe and which are not, and for completeness we will compare these machines with using convention massage.

The types of massagers

In this article we will look at the following types of massagers.
1. Hand held vibrating massagers
2. Vibrating plates
3. Convention massage (for comparison)

Handheld massagers

As mentioned above massagers that provide purely localised therapeutic vibrations are very safe, while those designed to drive their heads into your muscles are not. The following infographic outlines the difference between the two machines, and you can find more information about how to choose one in this article . Following the infographic we discuss the specific benefits and side effects of each.

Pure vibration vs driving heads in

Infographic: Pure vibration massage vs driving heads in (percussion)

Pure vibration massagers

Side effects and adverse effects

These massagers just sit on the surface and send in vibrations so they are extremely safe. From our 30 years of using them in a chiropractic clinic and an extensive search of the scientific journals the only adverse or side effects are very rare temporary discomfort. If you tried to something completely inappropriate such as massage an injury it will still cause problems, but if you follow reasonable precautions such as outlined in our Vibration massage usage guide you should be fine.

The scientific effects of vibration massage
The vibrations penetrate deeply and have these effects
Effectiveness

These machines have been used by professionals for decades and are highly effective. As discussed in our article The scientifically proven effects of vibration massage- with clinical applications the vibrations have a host of excellent therapeutic benefits.

Massagers that drive their heads into your muscles

Journal title page: Rhabdomyolysis with massage gun usage
Journal report of massage gun injuries nearly causing death
Side effects and adverse effects

Massage guns and percussion massagers usually come with hard plastic heads that would look at home on a jackhammer, and the more powerful machines are able to drive their heads in up to 16 mm. You can certainly do a lot of damage with these. A user without appropriate training and knowledge could easily drive these heads into sensitive structures such as nerves or blood vessels, but as discussed in our article Are massage guns safe even when used on muscles there are reports in journals of massage guns or percussion massagers causing life threatening injuries (1,2)⁠. As a refection of how dangerous one of these can be a survey of professionals found that most just use them on “slow” or “medium” (3)⁠.

Effectiveness

Massage gun marketers claim that driving driving their heads into your muscles increases penetration and adds the benefits of conventional massage. As discussed in our article Are massage guns scientifically proven this is a highly deceptive marketing gimmick, with them actually being far less effective than those machines that just deliver vibrations. Please see the article for details, but we will briefly address the main points.

Massage guns deliver far less therapeutic vibrations

It is the vibrations that have the therapeutic effects, and referring to the infographic above massage guns deliver far less of these than a genuine vibration massager. Further, as discussed in our article Are massage guns scientifically proven because massage guns are so dangerous they cannot be used at the best therapeutic vibration frequencies.

Ultrasound being used
Vibration massagers send in vibrations like ultrasound, but are much safer
Driving their heads in does not increase penetration

It is the vibrations that have the therapeutic effects, and like ultrasound (vibrations at a different frequency) the vibrations from a genuine vibration massager can easily penetrate deeply into your muscles. This is far further (and safer) than the 16mm penetration of even the most powerful massage gun.

Driving their heads in adds very little conventional massage benefits

Massage gun marketers produce no evidence that driving their heads into your muscles adds significant conventional massage benefits, and it is very unlikely that it in any way equates with the benefits you would receive from a conventional massage therapist.

Recommendations

As you can see massage guns or percussion massagers are purely a marketing gimmick. Compared with genuine vibration massagers they are less effective and certainly capable of giving far more side effects and adverse reactions. Before getting a hand held massager we thoroughly recommend you check out our article How to choose a massager .

Vibrating plates or platforms

Vibrating plates or platforms are designed to vibrate your whole body or large parts. They are used in three main ways.

  1. To exercise on
  2. To vibrate part of your body (eg. resting feet on the plate to increase circulation)
  3. To directly apply vibration massage (eg. sitting on one to massage your buttocks)
Using a vibration plate in gym
This vibration would be considered very hazardous on a work site

Side effects and adverse effects

Exposure to vibrations has long been recognised as an occupation hazard with a host of potential adverse effects such as those listed below. Because of this occupational health and safety guidelines have been developed to prevent harmful exposure. However, scientists have found that a lot of commonly available devices exceed safe exposure limits with less than 5 minutes of use, with one machine delivering 7 times the vibration level deemed unsafe for anything over one minute (4–9)⁠⁠.

List of adverse effects from vibration
  • Vascular issues
  • Neurological issues
  • Respiratory problems
  • Back pain and sciatica
Recommendations
Exercising

Vibration platforms are used in gyms to increase the effectiveness of exercising. Simply, the vibrations mean your body has to work harder to maintain stability. Vibrations certainly do this, but surely there are better ways than by exposing you to hazards that would be deemed unsafe on a worksite?

Vibrating parts of your body

Vibrating you body has been shown to give a very small increase in circulation. It would certainly be a lot less than the increase you would get from doing light exercise. As an example vibration plates are marketed for people to rest their feet on in order to increase circulation in their legs. Going for a walk would increase circulation more, without the afore mentioned vibration risks.

Using a vibration plate as a massager

Vibration plates can be used like that, but they are really not designed for this purpose. Their frequency and how far the plate goes up and down are not optimum for therapeutic vibrations. Also, whereas a handheld vibration massager would send “focused” therapeutic vibrations into your muscles a plate would be more likely to vibrate large parts of your body with the afore mentioned dangerous vibrations.

Conventional massage

Vibrating massagers are often used instead of conventional massage so we will look at the potential side effects and adverse effects of conventional massage by comparison.

Side effects and adverse effects

Conventional massage is recognised as being very safe. Therapists do press into your muscles so if they do a more forceful vigorous massage there is potential for some pain or soreness. However, reports of any serious damage are extremely rare, and usually involve “unusual” massage techniques and or lay therapists (10–12)⁠.

Foam roller being used
Foam rollers are general far less safe and less effective than conventional massage

Using balls or rollers

Balls and foam rollers are sometimes advocated as a way to self apply conventional massage. However, because of the following reasons this dramatically increases the risk. Because of this scientists have expressed concern about the potential dangers (13), and as a Chiropractor I have personally seen many cases where people using balls or rollers have hurt themselves. Further, for reasons discussed in our article Do foam rollers work clinical trials generally show that results from using foam rollers are very poor.

Reasons balls or rollers increase the risk of side effects and adverse effects
  1. They allow your to apply much higher pressure
  2. You often need to get into awkward positions to use them
  3. Self users often do know have the needed knowledge including where not to press and when it is not safe to massage.
Professional at desk

Professionals

DrGraeme massagers are genuine vobration massagers that 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. Chen J, Zhang F, Chen H, Pan H. Rhabdomyolysis After the Use of Percussion Massage Gun : A Case Report. 2021;1–5.
  2. Masters A, Duarte R, Chiang B, Sarvottam K, Patel K. Hemothorax After Use of Percussion Massage Gun: A Case Report. 2022;A4172–A4172.
  3. Cheatham SW, Baker RT, Behm DG, Stull K, Kolber MJ. Mechanical percussion devices: A survey of practice patterns among healthcare professionals. Int J Sports Phys Ther. 2021;16(3):766–77.
  4. Brooke-wavell K, Mansfield NJ. Risks and benefits of whole body vibration training in older people. Age Ageing. 2009;38(3):254–5.
  5. MATTHEW J. JORDAN et. al. VIBRATION TRAINING: AN OVERVIEW OF THE AREA, TRAINING CONSEQUENCES, AND FUTURE CONSIDERATIONS. J Strength Cond Res. 2005;19(2):459–66.
  6. Mester, Joachim, Heinz Kleinöder and ZY. Vibration training-risks and benefits. J Biomech. 2006;39(6):1056–65.
  7. Burström L, Nilsson T, Wahlström J. Whole-body vibration and the risk of low back pain and sciatica: a systematic review and meta-analysis. Vol. 88, International Archives of Occupational and Environmental Health. 2015. p. 403–18.
  8. Cardinale M, Pope MH. The effects of whole body vibration on humans: Dangerous or advantageous? Acta Physiol Hung. 2003;90(3):195–206.
  9. Jesse Muir, Ph.D.1, Douglas P. Kiel, M.D., M.P.H2, and Clinton T. Rubin PD. Safety and severity of accelerations delivered from whole body vibration exercise devices to standing adults. J Sci Med Sport. 2013;16(6):526–0531.
  10. Ernst E. The safety of massage therapy. Rheumatology. 2003;42(9):1101–6.
  11. Cherkin D et. al. A Review of the Evidence for the Effectiveness , Safety , and Cost of acupuncture, massage therapy, and spinal manipulation for back pain. Ann Intern Med. 2003;38:898–906.
  12. Kumar S, Beaton K, Hughes T. The effectiveness of massage therapy for the treatment of nonspecific low back pain: A systematic review of systematic reviews. Int J Gen Med. 2013;6:733–41.
  13. Freiwald J, Baumgart C, Kühnemann M, Hoppe MW. Foam-Rolling in Sport und Therapy- Potential benefits and risks. Sport Orthop Traumatol. 2016;32(3):267–75.

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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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