To answer that question, we first need to get clear about why Whole Body Vibration machines were invented and what feature of them makes health benefits possible. Whole Body Vibration machines first became commercially available in Europe in the 90’s and were designed to combat the detrimental effects of microgravity during space travel.
How Does Gravity Work Its Wonders?
Scientists have found that it is not just absence of gravity that causes the health problems suffered by Astronauts, specifically it is the reduction of gravity in the Axial direction. ‘Axial’ means gravity pulling along a line through the body going from the head to the toes eg. when standing upright.
Does this mean that supplementing gravity with Whole Body Vibration only restores health if applied in the Axial direction?
While there is little evidence of benefits from gravity applied in the horizontal direction, there is ample evidence to show that health results from the force of gravity pulling vertically through the axis of the body, not horizontally across the axis of the body.
This has been demonstrated in “bed-rest” studies where test subjects remain horizontal for weeks and months at a time, not even sitting up to eat, bathe or go to the toilet.
In these studies, even though the person is still on Earth, still under a normal amount of gravity they are not experiencing the normal direction of gravity and suffer the same detrimental health consequences as an Astronaut would in the microgravity of space. These changes include balance disorders, muscle loss, bone loss, spinal dysfunction and cardiovascular dysfunction.
What Does 45 Years Of NASA Research Tell Us?
Dr. Joan Vernikos, author of “The G-Connection – Harness Gravity and Reverse Aging” and one of the scientists in charge of studying the health of Astronauts at NASA for the past 45 years says:
Those negative health effects were not merely a consequence of inactivity. Subjects undertaking intensive cardiovascular exercise while horizontal were not able to completely prevent cardiovascular dysfunction, bone loss and other effects. Dr. Vernikos goes on to say:
What About Vibration Machines?
Where traditional exercise has failed, Whole Body Vibration has succeeded in counteracting the deleterious effects of reduced axial gravity, but as the research shows – only when the Acceleration is sufficient. In the Berlin Bed Rest study (1) researchers found that 8 minutes of Vibration Training with 15G of Acceleration twice a day, 5 days a week (average of 11 min / day) completely prevented loss of bone and muscle strength in people confined to bed for 56 days.
In other words, that 11 minutes of 15G vibration training was equivalent to the amount of gravity exposure a person would ordinarily get in a whole day.
In repeat experiments using the same vibration machine and same exercises, when G-force was reduced to 10G, muscle and bone loss was only partially prevented. When it was further reduced to 5G or less the benefits were reduced by 70-100% ie. low-G vibration was ineffective.
The original Whole Body Vibration machines from the 1990‘s were powerful, European made machines capable of producing over 20G’s and with good reason – high G-force works!
In response to the growing popularity of high G-force vibration machines in physical therapy and elite sports, manufacturers in Asia decided to start making vibration machines too. With the majority of machines now coming from Asia and their claiming to be made according to traditional Chinese medicine principles, you could be mistaken for thinking the technology originated there. In reality however, Asian manufacturers copied the European concept, and for the most part did a pretty average job of it. Most machines coming from Asia struggle to reach 5G.
What Are ‘Spiral’ Vibration Machines?
The latest ‘innovation’ from Asia is “Spiral” vibration. In a traditional vibration machine, the force of gravity is primarily directed vertically up through the body in the axial direction.
In a Spiral vibration machine the vibration is not directed into the body at all, instead the force is primarily directed horizontally away from the body. When scientists (2) tested a Pivotal, Lineal and Spiral vibration machine they found the Spiral machine was able to produce 4G in a horizontal direction but only 1G or less in a vertical direction.
Some machines are capable of Spiral vibration plus Pivotal vibration at the same time however even with the addition of some Pivotal vibration the end result is still only a few G of vertical acceleration.
Of course suppliers of Spiral vibration machines were quick to claim the superiority of this vibration method; strength, bone density, lymphatic drainage, whatever you want, ‘Spiral’ will do it better!
Does The Research Support Spiral Vibration?
As an exercise or therapeutic modality Whole Body Vibration is really well supported in scientific research with over 400 papers published. Of those 400+ papers, not one of them supports the use of “Spiral” vibration.
There is no evidence to support the claim that Spiral is ‘better’ or even comes close to being ‘as good’ as traditional Pivotal and Lineal vibration. Not a single health benefit has been proven.
Without any logical or scientific reason to expect any benefit from using one, sellers of these low-powered machines resort to using carnival tricks such as showing water being sloshed around in a tube when placed on a vibrating Spiral machine – hoping consumers will forget that their bodies are not hollow empty tubes of water and instead be so entertained by the stunt they buy one.
Not only do Spiral vibration machines provide practically no axial loading to the body the meagre amounts of acceleration they do create is directed away from the body into empty space.
So it seems that rather helping someone increase their exposure to gravity, Spiral machines come pretty close to duplicating the experience of being in space!
Wanna buy one?
(1) Rittweger J, Beller G, Armbrecht G. Prevention of bone loss during 56 days of strict bed rest by side-alternating resistive vibration exercise. Bone. 2010 Jan;46(1):137-47.
(2) Pel JJM, et al. Platform accelerations of three different whole-body vibration devices and the transmission of vertical vibrations to the lower limbs. Med Eng Phys (2009)