Practitioners vary the rate and intensity the vibration applied to the patient in order to tailor the curative effects of therapy to the diagnosis. Practitioners also vary the pressure of the device upon the affected area for the same reason. Patients are advised to relax and not hold their breath during the application of vibration. Vibration therapy should not be painful.
Localized vibration therapy: In a clinic, the patient lies on a massage table with the affected area of the body face up. The therapist applies the vibration using a plug in massager or specialized piece of equipment. Visits may last from 20 minutes to an hour. The duration of treatment in patients with an injury lasts until recovery. For patients seeking the therapy as a preventative measure, sessions may be ongoing. Some individuals choose to administer vibration therapy to an area of complaint without the consultation of a doctor or physical therapist. There is no protocol for such application, and the duration and type of therapy varies.
Whole body vibration: This form of therapy is applied for more systemic complaints. The patient stands on a machine or sits in a chair that vibrates. Many physical therapists for professional athletes use vibration therapy to decrease the recovery time after an injury. One example of a product in this category is called the Power Plate. Clinical trials have not reached a consensus on the effects of this product in providing the purported benefits.
Massage therapists, occupational therapists, physical therapists, and other body workers integrate vibration therapy into their practices. There is no licensure program for vibration therapy, and states do not regulate the use of this modality. Some manufactures of vibration therapy products offer training seminars.
The mechanism of action behind vibration therapy is unclear; however, several theories have been put forth. In the treatment of bone density, advocates claim that mechanical vibration applies significant but safe stress on the patient's bones. The stress created by the vibration sends an unknown chemical signal to the bones. This signal may cause bones to increase their internal mass. Similarly, advocates claim that vibration therapy induces a tiny stretch in the muscles of the area where it is applied. Because of a principle known as the myotatic stretch reflex, the muscles respond to this tiny stretch by contracting. The continuous stretch and contraction of a muscle may help build muscle mass. The strengthening of muscles prevents injuries from occurring and promotes the restoration of muscle mass after an injury. Lastly, mechanical vibration offers a constant stimulus that may override, and thus block, the pain signal being sent to the nervous system.
Vibration therapy is the topic of significantly more investigation in clinical trials than most other integrative modalities. The most researched uses of vibration medicine are for alleviation of pain, increasing bone density, and as an adjunct therapy for sports-related injuries.
Repeated clinical trials have not shown if vibration therapy is actually beneficial to patients. It is unknown if the unproven benefits of vibration medicine are due to the placebo effect.
The Centers for Disease Control partially sponsored the First American Conference on Human Vibration in June of 2006. No major medical organization has released a position statement on the use of vibration medicine. The American Occupational Therapy Association, the American Physical Therapy Association, and the American Massage Therapy Association have not released position statements on vibration therapy.