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The History of Vibration Therapy: From Ancient Times to Modern Days

26th April 2023

Because vibration plates and machines have only recently come into commercial use, it’s fair to think that these are new inventions to improve your health and achieve your weight loss goals. But the history behind vibration therapy is truly extensive.

From the Ancient Greeks to today’s use of vibration plates by NASA, the world of vibration has seen major changes over the centuries. So, for those who are fascinated by history and want to delve a bit deeper into the historical developments behind vibration therapy, this post is for you.

What is vibration therapy?

Before we take a historical tour of vibration as a form of therapy, it’s worth knowing what it is and how it is used today.

In terms of usage, we see it in gyms, homes, and medical centers where people use vibration machines or whole body vibration for their health and wellness as well as fitness and weight loss goals.

The way vibration plates work is such that vibrational frequencies are released by the vibration plate, which you can sit, lie, or stand on, and these frequencies force your muscles to relax and contract at much faster rates than regular exercise.

As such, this type of therapy is exceptionally useful for people who want to improve muscle tone and strength, bone and joint density, get lymphatic drainage, and a whole lot more.

Types of vibration machines

The main types of vibration machines that you will find on the market today are oscillating and linear types.

Whereas oscillating vibration machines are also known as pivotal, which generally support more weight and have a lower vertical impact on the body, linear or vertical vibration machines replicate or mimic the jump reflex in the body. There are advantages to both types of machines, although pivotal ones come out on top because they:

  • Reduce stress on the organs
  • Keeps the spine more flexible and loose
  • Mimic a normal walking motion, and
  • Muscles on either side of the body are not contracted at the same time.

The history behind vibration machines and therapy

There are possibly hundreds if not thousands of studies that have been carried out over the past few decades ever since vibration machines have come out in full commercial and medical use. However, the principles behind vibration therapy are quite ancient and date all the way back to the Ancient Greeks. In this section, we will rewind back in time and see how the development of vibration machines and therapy has evolved in history. Let’s explore!

  • Greece: Ancient times

  • The Ancient Greeks are credited with giving us a lot of the knowledge that we have today. From the theories of Pythagoras to the philosophical musings of Aristotle. But apart from math and philosophy, they also began medical treatment with vibration bows, which was a treatment that was given to wounded soldiers. This is how the treatment worked; a wooden bow with a shaft would be wrapped in cloth and this bow would be plucked over wounds to produce vibrations. It was found that injuries and wounds would heal faster because there was a greater stimulation of the production of the Human Growth Hormone, puss would drain faster from wounds due to greater circulation, lymphatic drainage would be stimulated, and therefore, the body’s healing process would be sped up.

  • Japan: 16th century

  • We now jump forward to the 16th century in Japan where a Japanese book describes the potential benefits of vibrations for various types of health conditions. In particular, this book focused on the relief of rheumatic disorders and the cure of fractured bones due to vibration therapy. In fact, this has proven to be quite accurate as today, many studies have shown that this type of therapy helps with improving bone density and joint conditions as it is a low-impact form of exercise that can be applied to patients suffering from bone or joint issues.

  • France: 18th century

  • Skip forward two centuries later and we find ourselves in France. Here, Jean-Martin Charcot was a physician who dealt with Parkinson’s patients. His observations led him to believe that long train or carriage rides helped reduce the symptoms in his patients due to the vibrating nature of the movement or mode of transportation. He, therefore, invented a vibrating chair to replicate the train or carriage rides’ movements and studied the effects on his patients after 30-minute sessions. His findings showed that there was a reduction in the patients’ pathology, which paved the way for further studies and research in the future.

  • Sweden: 1857

  • Apart from Charcot, the development of vibration as a mode of therapy was discovered in 1857 by Swedish doctor Gustav Zander. This medical man designed and built several machines for exercising, and some of these incorporated a vibrating-style motion. He then exhibited his machines at two World Fairs after which they were used in Zander institutes (an early form of health clubs), medical facilities, and therapy centers – the precursors of today’s gyms. One of his devices the “Zanderapparat F2” simulated the jog-trot on a horse and by this time already, this machine’s amplitude and frequency could be adjusted.

  • United States: 1895

  • In terms of popularity, we now move to the United States where Dr. John Harvey Kellogg, who invented the popular breakfast cereal Corn Flakes that we all know and love today, also invented whole-body vibration therapy (WBVT). He is considered the pioneer of WBVT as his invention of vibration chairs and platforms were used in sanatoriums for therapeutic purposes. Initially, his devices were driven by steam and could be used by up to five people at the same time.

  • Germany and Russia: 1960s

  • The evolution of vibration therapy would continue to develop even further as Professor W. Bierman of former East Germany furthered the advances made in the field of WBVT. His studies led him to develop what is called Ädvanced Vibration Technology or rhythmic neuromuscular stimulation, which aims to transfer a maximum amount of vibrations to the muscles that force them to contract.

    A similar technology to the one just mentioned was also used in Russia, where Olympic athletes trained using these machines in order to help prevent injuries or deal with recovery. This was such a successful method that in 1960, the Russian Olympic teams that used full-body vibration techniques came home with 43 medals.

  • Italy: The turn of the century

  • Soon after the developments and popularity of WBVT gained prominence in some parts of the world, vibration therapy developed to give us the first modern-day vibration exercise machine. All this is thanks to Italian physiologist Carmelo Bosco.

  • Russia: 1995

  • You may think that WBVT is just for us humans on Earth. However, it’s been used to train and rehabilitate cosmonauts in space, too. In fact, in 1995, we had Russian cosmonaut Valery Polakov, who set a world record for being in space for 438 days due to vibration technology. This technology was said to repair muscle atrophy and improve bone density, both of which are problematic aspects of the weightlessness of space.

Where WBVT is today

After all these developments, vibration therapy continued to be studied and further enhanced for maximum benefits for people in their homes, at gyms, and at medical centers. In addition to this, WBVT is used by NASA, professional sports teams, spas, and health centers. Today, there is a wide range of devices available on the market, offering different frequencies, amplitudes, movements (pivotal or linear), and a whole lot more. WBVT is used both proactively and reactively in terms of helping to train individuals as well as helping them to recover, particularly those with neurodegenerative diseases.

Final remarks
And there you have it! A comprehensive trip throughout history that covers the origins and developments of vibration therapy. There are perhaps thousands of studies that have been done today to carefully explore the effects of WBVT on the human body and these results are extremely promising. From muscle tone and strength to improved bone density and joint functioning, WBVT is an incredible way of achieving your health and fitness goals.


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