Although it might seem like an exciting ride, wriggling on vibrating plates may actually have real health benefits.

Studies show that vibration therapy, which is used for six weeks in a row to improve mobility and memory in multiple sclerosis patients (MS), can result in improved cognitive function.

It may also be beneficial for conditions ranging from arthritis, Alzheimer’s and depression, to type 2 diabetes, lung disease, incontinence and high blood pressure.

‘The potential for vibration therapy is huge,’ says Professor Raj Persad, a consultant urologist at North Bristol NHS Trust. ‘It has positive effects on muscle which, in turn, affects blood supply, the heart, hormones, brain tissue and the bones.’

Medically known as whole-body vibration therapy (WBV), it involves standing, sitting or lying on a metal platform that vibrates typically for between ten and 20 minutes — with up to three sessions a week.

Research shows that just six weeks of vibration therapy can lead to improved memory and mobility in people with multiple sclerosis (MS). It may also be beneficial for conditions ranging from arthritis, Alzheimer¿s and depression, to type 2 diabetes, lung disease, incontinence and high blood pressure

A study has shown that six weeks of vibratory therapy can improve mobility and memory in multiple sclerosis patients (MS). It may also be beneficial for conditions ranging from arthritis, Alzheimer’s and depression, to type 2 diabetes, lung disease, incontinence and high blood pressure

The vibration rate ranges between 15 to 60 movement per second. You can also see the plate moving between 2mm and 10mm in both directions at once.

It is believed that the vibrations of the platform cause muscles to relax and contract dozens of time per second. This makes them stronger and more flexible in much the same way as when they exercise.

Also, the vibrations are believed to encourage bone growth through activating bone cells called osteoclasts. This removes old bone and stimulates osteoblasts which make new bone. The idea is not new.

More than a century ago, Parisian neurologist Jean-Martin Charcot designed a vibrating chair after noticing that his patients with Parkinson’s disease seemed more comfortable, had fewer symptoms, and slept better, after enduring bumpy carriage rides over the cobbled streets of the city.

The steam-powered chair was used by patients for up to 30 minutes per day. Patients reported feeling more relaxed and able to move around freely afterwards.

This idea is being pursued by medical researchers once again. Currently, there are 50 trials in vibration therapy.

The theory is that as the platform vibrates it forces muscles to contract and relax dozens of times a second, making them bigger and stronger, in a similar way to when we exercise

It is believed that the vibrations of the platform cause muscles to relax and contract dozens of time per second. This makes them stronger and more flexible in much the same way as when we exercise.

WBV has been shown to have positive effects on bones and muscles. It is now being used for osteoporosis, back pain and incontinence. This works by strengthening the pelvic muscles. 

Dr Katherine Brooke-Wavell, a senior lecturer in human biology at Loughborough University, says: ‘There seem to be benefits on musculoskeletal health, including improved muscle power, which is important for maintaining everyday activities as we get older, and a reduced risk of falls.’

Numerous studies show that WBV can make bones stronger and denser in osteoporosis.

A study published last year in Osteoporosis international by Odense University Hospital (Danemark) found that a 12-minute treatment was effective for increasing the density of the lower spine. It did this by giving 50 women who were going through menopause a total of three times per week, over a period lasting more than a year.

According to the New England Journal of Medicine, different amounts of the hormone parathyroid, used for osteoporosis treatment, raised bone density by 3 to 6 percent in the neck and 13% in the spine.

Osteoarthritis of knee, which can cause pain, stiffness, and immobility, may also be treated with WBV. A study done by Shenyang University of China found that WBV improved muscle strength and bone densities in osteoarthritic knees. It was published last month in the Journal Joint Bone Spine.

A 2010 study by Frederiksberg Hospital, Denmark found that WBV for eight weeks significantly increased the strength and flexibility of the thighs in osteoarthritis patients.

However, other research has produced more mixed results, or found no effect, as Dr Brooke-Wavell explains: ‘The promise of vibration training in some of the early studies has not always been confirmed in larger, more robust research. While some studies showed benefits in bone density, others did not.

‘We know exercise is effective, and vibration training could be helpful in people who are unable to exercise,’ she says.

The vibrations through the skin are thought to also increase hormone production. These include growth hormones, which are involved in tissue repair, and wound healing, and in brain chemicals, including dopamine, which is thought to help with Parkinson’s disease.

Professor Persad adds that it is difficult to determine who would benefit the most from WBV therapy and how much they should be receiving.

‘The one problem is identifying who or what ailment benefits the most and working out what “dosage” or exposure is optimal.’

Research suggests WBV might have cognitive and memory benefits. This could help those with dementia.

The brain’s blood flow increased by around 10% after six-months worth of WBV. A report published by Tohoku University of Japan this month in Annals of Nuclear Medicine said that mild cognitive impairment is precursor to dementia.