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Effects of Vibration on the Human Body

13th October 2021
the risks

Every day the human body is exposed to numerous sorts of vibrations, ranging from the ones caused by vehicles to the ones produced by power tools or heavy machinery. The vibrations can sometimes be pleasant, let’s take as an example the massage chair at the mall; can be harmful, which is most often the case with occupational vibrations; and last but not least – can be beneficial, thanks to the body vibration platform.

Usually, the extent to which a mechanical oscillation is considered harmful depends on factors, such as frequency, level of intensity and of course – duration. The longer the duration and the higher the frequency – the bigger the negatives. This is often observed among people who are exposed to whole body vibrations at work and is known as the whole body vibration syndrome.

What is the whole body vibration syndrome?

construction worker
According to this study, the whole body vibration syndrome is a pathological condition which is caused by the exposure to prolonged quivers with higher frequency and level of intensity. People who are most prone to developing the syndrome include construction workers, heavy machinery operators and military drivers. This is due to the combination of extremely high-frequency oscillations, produced by the machine and the long-hour shifts, lasting for up to 8 – 10 hours.

The vibrations are normally transmitted through the feet, legs, and buttocks of the driver, causing stress to every tissue, organ, and system. The negative effects progress slowly and might take years to reveal. Furthermore, it has been established that some people are more sensitive to whole body vibrations at work than others, meaning that they have to take extra care. As to the negative health effects – one of the most common conditions that are associated with the whole body vibration syndrome is chronic back pain.

Other dangers of vibration machines include:

  • Digestive problems, such as gastroesophageal reflux disease
  • Nerve damage, also known as peripheral neuropathy
  • Chronic headache, dizziness, fatigue and nausea
  • Body aches, neck pain, muscle pain and tiredness
  • Cardiovascular disease and some forms of cancer

Risk of whole-body and arm-hand vibration

Effects of Vibration on the Human Body 3The above-mentioned pathological conditions might take years to develop, depending on several factors, such as the sensitivity of the individual and the level of precautions. It all starts with experiencing minor pain which if ignored progress into severe pain and injury. Should you further continue exposing your body to the same vibrations, the injury could advance into a disease.

People who operate heavy vehicles, such as earth-moving equipment and rollers are at higher risk of developing whole-body injuries, whereas those who work with rammers, chainsaws, drills, jackhammers, and road breakers are more prone to arm-hand vibration syndrome (AHVS). The risks to the overall health of the individual in both scenarios are serious and should not be ignored, neither by the worker nor by their direct manager.

Some of the most common risks of whole-body and arm-hand vibration include:

  • Changes in joints, tendons, ligaments and muscles
  • Temporary or permanent loss of sensation in the hands and feet
  • Pain in fingers, hands, wrists, feet, and ankles
  • Reduced grip strength and light touch
  • Discoloration in the fingers due to damage of the blood vessels

Whole-Body Vibration Hazards and Safety Precautions

lumberjackProlonged exposure to whole-body vibrations may affect the human body in many different ways. This study reveals that the hazards to health depend on several factors, such as the area of impact, the intensity of the quivers, the level of exposure and the daily recurrence of the vibrations. Common vibration hazards examples include reduced physical performance, impaired subjective perception, worsen motor skills, stomach problems, and spine injuries.

The whole-Body vibration hazards, associated with the frequent use of vibrating power tools, and the dangers of vibration machines, such as tractors or army vehicles have been known to society for a long time but they are still underestimated. This is a serious matter that affects the health of thousands of employees each year and should not be ignored. The first and most important step in that direction is prevention, as once the problem occurs and the symptoms start showing, it might be too late for going back.

This is why everyone who is exposed to occupational vibrations must undergo thorough training and become familiar with the safety precautions. After all, if people are not aware of the hazards, then it is extremely difficult to take the necessary measures. Some of the most common safety precautions that can be taken into consideration include:

  • Making sure all equipment is in excellent working condition
  • The use of oscillation isolators on tools and proper handling techniques
  • Providing employees with frequent 15-minute breaks during the shift
  • Allowing operators to switch between non-vibrating and vibrating machines
  • Regular education of staff on the hazards related to prolonged vibration, proper use of the equipment and how best to avoid injuries

Why is vibration a serious health issue?

body achesThe high-frequency, high-intensity and prolonged vibration that is transmitted from the power tools throughout the body can cause some serious health issues. According to scientific research, usual vibration hazards examples include damaged nerves, blood vessels and lymphatic nodes; impaired functioning of muscles, bones and joints; as well as greater risk for developing back pain, cardiovascular disease, sleep disorders, and various digestive problems.

Over time the symptoms could become even more severe and more frequent, especially during the cold winter season. If the exposure is not suspended on time it could ultimately lead to a life-long disability. If you are exposed to occupational vibration you must take all necessary precautions in order to avoid or minimize the risk of developing a whole-body or arm-hands vibration syndrome.

Final thoughts

Anything in life has its pros and cons, and vibrations are not an exception to that rule. If used properly and in moderation, one thing can be beneficial, while the misuse of the same thing can cause harm. For the past several decades, scientists have discovered that vibrations at frequencies of up to 40 Hz and duration at a range of 15 – 20 minutes a day, 3 – 4 days a week are associated with numerous health benefits, such as weight loss, increased bone density, and better circulation. It is a great discovery and is possible thanks to the body vibration plate.

On the other hand, overexposure to oscillations with higher frequencies ranging from 100 Hz and above, which is often the case with occupational vibration, can lead to serious health problems. People whose job is related to the frequent use of equipment that causes such vibrations should be extremely careful and must take all possible precautions in order to protect their bodies and avoid injury.

References (in order of appearance)

Lundström, R., Noor Baloch, A., Hagberg, M. et al. (2018). Long-term effect of hand-arm vibration on thermotactile perception thresholds. J Occup Med Toxicol 13, 19.

Krajnak, K., Riley, D. A., Wu, J., McDowell, T., Welcome, D. E., Xu, X. S., & Dong, R. G. (2012). Frequency-dependent effects of vibration on physiological systems: experiments with animals and other human surrogates. Industrial health, 50(5), 343-353.

Davis, J., Wang, Z., Zhang, L. L., Agresti, M., Matloub, H. S., & Yan, J. G. (2014). A quantitative study of vibration injury to peripheral nerves-introducing a new longitudinal section analysis. Hand (New York, N.Y.), 9(4), 413-418.

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