Shaken to the Core

Have you noticed the popularity of vibration platforms in gyms and some health clinics over the past few years? Manufacturers list a long line of benefits including weight loss, improved bone density in menopausal women, improved athletic performance, improved balance and flexibility. This is not a new concept, during the 1960’s the Germans were studying the effects of whole body vibration on their athletes and in the 1970’s the Russian space program found it benefited their cosmonauts who experienced muscle loss and bone thinning after spending long periods in space (a zero gravity environment). As a result of ongoing research by the European Space Agency and NASA, the whole body vibration platform was born.

Studies have showed a range of possible benefits from vibration machine training. These include improved balance in older women, improved muscle strength in older men or women and boosted bone density levels in post menopausal women.  Many online sources claim it improves the symptoms of incontinence however very little research on vibration/pelvic floor is available.  One study has shown which type of vibration leads to higher pelvic floor muscle activation in subjects with weakened pelvic floors and which type achieved higher levels of pelvic floor activation than voluntary maximal contraction alone.   Click here to read this study.

Recently I was contacted by a 52 year old women who had aggravated her existing vaginal prolapse after a session on the vibration platform at a clinic she attended to improve her continence. After assessing her pelvic floor, core and abdominal muscle action, strength, endurance and coordination, it was obvious why her prolapse was aggravated. Instead of lifting her pelvic floor muscles she strongly tightened her upper abdominal muscles which resulted in a bearing down action onto her pelvic floor. She had learned this action after a lifetime of switching on these muscles to flatten her tummy.

When I’m asked if vibration platforms can help incontinence, I have to say ‘yes, but’.  Pointing out that some women have to learn to crawl before they can run.    The vibration platform does not automatically find the weakest muscles and train them for you.  It simply amplifies the training effect for whichever muscle you are exercising while on board the machine.  I only add it to a client’s program after they have completed the ‘Find It, Control It, Train It’ stages of pelvic floor and core rehabilitation. Ensuring they have coordinated pelvic floor muscle strength and endurance before the vibration stimulus is added. Used this way, and combined with a tall posture, the vibrating platform can be useful to increase pelvic floor and core muscle awareness, activation and maybe strength.  Even so, not all clients are appropriate for this form of intervention.

Tips for the vibration platform

  • Check with your doctor or physiotherapist if the platform is a suitable form of treatment
  • Read through this list of contraindications (risk factors) before using the platform - click here
  • Be skilled in pelvic floor/core muscle strength and endurance exercises first
  • Always adopt a 'tall' posture or have a therapist/trainer check your posture on the platform.  Breathe slowly, don't hold it.
  • Keep the vibration low frequency (Hz) and use only for 20 to 30 second bursts for the first few sessions before increasing the duration
  • Avoid higher frequencies which can be dangerous to some people, especially those with arthritis or osteoporosis