Exercising just twice a week with a whole-body vibration machine significantly lessens pain and improves quality of life for fibromyalgia patients, according to a pilot study by researchers at Indiana University.
Whole-body vibration (WBV) machines allow users to exercise passively by standing on a platform that vibrates rapidly. Advocates say the vibration causes muscles to contract and relax, which improves balance, strength and circulation.
“Exercise is probably one of the best therapies for patients with fibromyalgia. The hard part is getting most patients to adhere to it long term,” said Tony Kaleth, a clinical exercise physiologist and associate professor in the School of Physical Education at Indiana University-Purdue University Indianapolis.
Kaleth and his colleagues enrolled 24 female fibromyalgia patients in the study. The women, who were primarily overweight and sedentary, were divided into three groups. The first group did not exercise and was used as a control. The second group was asked to perform a series of lower body resistance exercises for about 15-30 minutes twice a week for 8 weeks. The third group did the same exercises while standing on a WBV machine.
“The group that received whole body vibration in addition to lower body resistance training exercises had significant improvement in their pain severity scores, which was based on a questionnaire, compared to the other two groups. They also had significant improvement in their overall quality of life as well,” Kaleth told National Pain Report.
“Our findings are promising, but it is not entirely clear whether these improvements were the result of added vibration or just the effects of being more active.”
Kaleth recently presented his findings at the American College of Sports Medicine annual meeting in Orlando, Fla. His paper has not yet been published in a peer- reviewed journal.
A similar study has been published in the The Journal of Alternative and Complementary Medicine, which found that a combination of exercise and WBV training improved both pain and fatigue in fibromyalgia patients.
A number of anecdotal reports on the benefits of WBV training can also be found online, such as this one:
The National Institutes of Health estimates that 5 million Americans suffer from fibromyalgia, a poorly understood disorder characterized by chronic deep tissue pain, fatigue, headaches, depression, anxiety, and lack of sleep. There is no known cure and the disorder is difficult to treat.
Regular exercise can relieve some of the symptoms of fibromyalgia, but many patients are reluctant to participate because they fear it will worsen their pain and fatigue. That often leads to a sedentary lifestyle.
“Over time, this can lead to additional weight gain, as well as accompanying chronic health conditions associated with obesity, such as high blood pressure and type 2 diabetes,” Kaleth said.
“It’s kind of a vicious cycle. The pain associated with exercise, whether it’s actual pain from exercising or the fear of pain from exercising, is what often limits patients from being more active. In some capacity, the pain that they feel is normal muscular discomfort from being active when they were previously sedentary.”
Kaleth says the long term benefits of WBV training have not been proven and more research is needed. WBV machines can cost several thousand dollars, but are increasingly being found in fitness centers.
“It’s too early to really recommend it, particularly for someone to buy it. But if someone had access to it in a fitness center, they are welcome to try the machine,” he said. “There does seem to be some potential benefit there, but I think it’s too early to go out and recommend it as a viable form of exercise for patients.”