A new trend is appearing in physiotherapy clinics- those vibrating platforms. Having saturated the fitness industry, the corporate leaders seem to be taking aim at the rehabilitation industry as their next major client. I patiently listened to the sales man as he explained how WBV could reduce Low Back Pain. That’s when my brain stopped.
Had he made an argument for generalized improved musculature or even to stop osteoporosis, I would have expected it given their pitches to the fitness industry but reducing LBP, that’s new.

“What evidence can you cite for this statement? What was the population?”

“We have a study from the University of XXXX which indicated that using WBV for 20min 3 days a week for 6 weeks reduced reported pain in patients with back pain by 80%.”

“That’s great. What was their condition? This is really important. Was it sciatica, spondylitis, disc herniation. Do you have a copy of the study so I can see it? Was it with standard treatment or compared to standard treatment?”

“I don’t know which condition it was for.”

“You understand that plays a major factor in my decision. If it’s for something common like a joint hypomobility with associated sciatica, you might make a sale. If it’s for something like a fracture of the arch- well, I think I’ve seen one of those.”

“I don’t know.”

“Leave your contact info.”

1 min on pubmed (before the salesman had left the clinic) and I found Perraton et al 2011. It is a lit review of all WBV and LBP studies. Of all the studies on WBV, only 3 randomized control trials exist. This is important as it is considered the gold standard for treatment comparison. One study is moot as it measured healthy individuals having 1 treatment. The other 2 involved people with undefined chronic low back pain and went on for several months. First, it was found that poorly calibrated machines can cause or exacerbate low back pain. This is no surprise since vibration on an unstable joint can result in its destabilization and injury. Given that people in a clinic already have some type of injury, increasing chances of hurting them is really not the way to go. Of the 2 studies found acceptable, only 1 found a correlation between back pain outcomes and use of the platform. The platform was not used as a treatment tool for pain- it was used as an educational modality to train spinal kinesiological awareness in space.

One should note that compared to basic spinal treatment, there is no evidence to suggest that WBV alone or WBV with standard therapy improves outcomes. If patients began reporting much less pain or much better functional status outcomes, one could make an argument for their purchase- but no such data exists. If outcomes of pain and functional status don’t improve and the condition itself is not treated- why treat it this way?

So no, it doesn’t reduce pain. It doesn’t combat osteoporosis. It doesn’t treat most conditions. It appears to be a major investment for very little return. Wouldn’t taking advanced rehab courses in manual and exercise therapy be a better idea?