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ISSA, International Sports Sciences Association, Certified Personal Trainer, ISSAonline, Vibration Therapies: How Small Devices Are Making Major Impacts in Exercise, Fitness, and Performance

Vibration Therapies: How Small Devices Are Making Major Impacts in Exercise, Fitness, and Performance

Reading Time: 5 minutes 30 seconds


DATE: 2023-01-04

Massage tools are becoming increasingly popular in the fitness industry; however, few wellness professionals know how to maximize the potential these tools have to offer. 

Dr. Matt Gloyd, physical therapist and owner of PT3 and TVT, shares his vibration therapies expertise here.


Fitness and health care facilities have utilized vibration therapies for decades; however, research has rendered little insight into the science and proper use of these applications to improve human movement. The objective of the Targeted Vibration Therapy Institute is to provide an understanding of the physiological effects high frequency vibration has on the human body and refine the art of vibration application to enhance function and physical performance. 

The combination of high frequency vibration with controlled movement continues to generate life-changing outcomes at the PT3 Private Client Center in Scottsdale, Arizona (www.pt3az.com). The vision of the Targeted Vibration Therapy Institute is to share the Center’s proven methodology and create a framework for the use of high frequency vibration to fast-track individual success.  

Most patients seeking physical therapy, chiropractic care, or massage therapy experience pain. In fact, that’s often their biggest complaint, I hurt, and because I hurt… I can’t exercise. Over 90% of these individuals have “adaptive shortening” or tightness as a result of their pain. Although these individuals will likely exhibit weakness as well, their pain will persist until the tightness is resolved. 

Tightness is not unique to persons with pain. Explore your own body and you’ll undoubtedly find areas of movement restriction. This tightness challenges your ability to perform exercise correctly and increases your risk of injury.

Vibration and Percussion Therapies for Exercise Recovery

Whole-body vibration (WBV) was originally developed by Jonas Gustav Zander, a Swedish doctor and inventor, in the 1800s. It was used at the time to improve individuals’ health and wellness. This vibration spread around the world in the early 1900s and had gained traction in the United States by 1910. Past and current research support the use of WBV for increasing muscular strength, improving blood and lymph flow, and providing adequate stimulus to stimulate bone growth when applied appropriately. The Soviet space program used the devices in the 1960s to prevent bone and muscle loss in zero gravity. WBV was first introduced in the clinic to enhance bone mineral density in patients with osteoporosis.

Today, these devices have become smaller and more affordable. Many of these vibrating devices are being used to improve strength in sedentary individuals or recover from the effects of strenuous exercise. There are two types of vibration therapies: local vibration (LV) to muscles and tendon administered by handheld devices and WBV performed by vibrating plates.

The method of application may influence the amplitude and frequency delivered to the muscle and the training effect. With LV the amplitude and frequency do not differ significantly to the applied muscle as opposed to WBV, in which the soft tissue can dissipate the desired effects to the targeted muscle(s). Recent devices, including the vibrating foam roller, handheld gun percussion massagers, and vibrating plates, have gained wide popularity due to their ease of use and generally portable size. These devices have made their way into therapy clinics as well.

The devices claim that they can improve blood flow, ROM, and performance and relieve common muscle pain. Vibration plate advocates also claim that they can aid in weight loss (via fat mobilization) and can reduce the effects of DOMS. These devices come with some drawbacks because of their size and, more pertinent, their cost.

Vibration is believed to have two main effects on the neuromyofascial system: mechanical and neurophysiological. The vibration’s mechanical effect is thought to improve the viscoelastic properties of the muscle, which improves mobility. The neurophysiological effect of LV is believed to work by stimulating the type Ia sensory afferents (dynamic muscle spindles) and, to a lesser extent, the type Ib afferents (Golgi tendon organ) and type II afferents (static muscle spindles). The type Ia afferents are affiliated with the stretch reflex. The stretch reflex is responsible for increasing activity of the agonist (the muscle being stimulated) and presynaptic inhibition of the antagonist (opposite muscle), which may be why they are helpful for recovery and performance.

There is still much research to be done, but in general the current literature has found that vibration lowers the pain-pressure threshold and DOMS is reduced more quickly following resistance exercise. The research has also shown that immediately following vibration treatment, an acute increase in range of motion occurs.

Benefits of Vibration Therapies

Recent evidence has shown that WBV increases blood flow and muscle temperature. Therefore, it has been hypothesized that the use of vibration can help recovery by increasing the delivery of oxygen and nutrients needed for repair. It would also make sense that the effect of the vibration will help overcome fatigue, decrease recovery time, and improve athletic performance.

It has also been theorized that WBV triggers the tonic vibration reflex that increases muscle spindle activity, which makes the muscle’s firing threshold easier. When this happens, a greater number of muscle fibers would be used, which may reduce the stress during muscle contractions and lead to improved recovery. The ideal frequency to elicit an effective muscle contraction has been determined to be between 30 and 50 Hz. WBV involves the individual standing, sitting, or lying on the apparatus. Individuals can also perform an exercise on the device, such as push-ups and squats.

Targeted Therapies

The localization of vibration therapy allows for targeted relief and focus for recovery or muscle performance. As mentioned, the vibration gun and vibration plate are the two most common local devices available for the execution of this strategy. 

Applying an LV device to a muscle or tendon causes a tonic vibration reflex (TVR), which contributes to the reflexive effect of muscle force. Furthermore, the vibration stimulation causes repetitive excitation of the primary muscle spindle (type Ia afferent). The combined effect of the reflexive contributor to muscle force and activation of muscle spindles might improve a muscle’s performance. Vibration therapy has been shown to improve muscle strength, power, joint position sense, and blood flow under the skin. There is no doubt that blood flow is enhanced from LV therapy, although the validity of other claims is still in question.

Handheld therapy devices typically cost between $200 and $2,000. Most are percussive therapy devices (because the head of the device moves forward and back as opposed to in all directions, as with vibration), which slightly differs from an LV device. The treatment head moves on and off the skin multiple times per second to send penetrative vibrations through the tissues. It is postulated that percussive therapy provides muscle performance and recovery benefits beyond LV therapy, although the two appear to be similar in research.

There are two primary benefits of a handheld LV device. First, it can be taken anywhere, unlike a large WBV device that costs considerably more. Second, a handheld device can be applied directly to the affected muscle or tissue.

The Emerging Solution: Targeted Vibration Therapy (TVT) & Vibration Release Techniques (VRT)

Targeted Vibration Therapy (R) (TVT) is an innovative application using high-frequency/low amplitude vibration (> 50Hz) to address pain, improve flexibility and enhance overall musculoskeletal health. TVT is the latest revolution in myofascial fitness and is transforming the way professionals promote soft tissue pliability.

Vibration Release Techniques (TM) (VRT) are the art behind Targeted Vibration Therapy (TVT) applications. These methods and protocols instruct users on the best practices to apply TVT for therapeutic effects and optimal outcomes.  

Although using a high-frequency/low-amplitude vibration tool is recommended, any massage tool can be utilized with VRT to improve flexibility and performance.

The Tightness Technique: L.O.V.

Using motorized vibration tools to desensitize the central nervous system enhances normal stretching, and incorporating the L.O.V. (TM) technique: Lengthen, Oscillate, Vibrate further improves joint range of motion and myofascial pliability.

Lengthen the muscle, oscillate with a flossing technique, then vibrate! People achieve results in seconds, not hours or months! 

Are you interested in learning how to implement exercise recovery techniques like this with your clients (or yourself)? Get certified as an Exercise Recovery Specialist with ISSA today! You can also get VRT certified and really understand how to effectively use vibration therapy no matter what device you own.

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ISSA | Exercise Recovery Specialist

ISSA's Exercise Recovery Specialization unlocks the science behind recovery techniques. As a Certified Exercise Recovery Specialist, personal trainers can apply this information to their exercise prescription and programs, helping athletes and general fitness clients alike.

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