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Vibration Therapy: Can Reduce Fibromyalgia, Chronic Head & Neck Pain Substantially

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“This is the first time a nonpainful stimulus has been found to have such an effect in fibromyalgia patients.”

Rubbing or massaging is often an instinctive response to pain. Now researchers have found that another kind of touch, vibration, can also help reduce certain types of pain by more than 40%. The researchers are encouraged by the prospect that vibration therapies could bring pill-free pain relief to chronic sufferers.

“The vibration truly represents an analgesic effect,” says Dr. Roland Staud, a professor of rheumatology and clinical immunology in the University of Florida College of Medicine. “This is exciting because it is something that provides pain relief that is not associated with great cost.”

The findings have been published online by the European Journal of Pain.(1)

Naturally occurring mechanisms help to blunt the severity of pain signals sent to the brain, but effectiveness of those systems varies from person to person, and in some people they fail altogether. Previous studies have shown that individuals with pain disorders of unknown cause – including fibromyalgia, migraine and irritable bowel syndrome – are less efficient at inhibiting pain.

To study chronic pain, one therapy that researchers use, ironically, is to subject individuals to pain of a different kind. The treatment is somewhat effective, but has its downside. “It is, of course, very unappealing for patients,” Dr. Staud said.

The UF researchers decided to see how well a less painful kind of therapy might work.

First, they applied pain-inducing heat to the forearms of participants, some of whom had fibromyalgia, some of whom had head and neck pain and some who were pain free. The researchers then used a special motor to deliver a high-frequency vibration to the skin and deep tissues of the arm to see whether that would relieve the pain caused by the heat. It did.

All three groups of patients experienced 40% reduction in pain when the vibration was applied.

“This is the first time a nonpainful stimulus has been found to have such an effect in fibromyalgia patients,” Dr. Staud said. The results differ from previous findings showing that chronic pain sufferers have defective pain relief mechanisms that defy therapy.

So what led to pain relief in the study participants?

• Was it because the vibration provided a distraction from the pain?

• Or was it truly a change in the pain signals being transmitted to the central nervous system?

It turns out that about half of the participants were, in fact, distracted by the vibration – but that didn’t matter. People who weren’t distracted had the same level of pain relief as those who were distracted, the researchers found.

To see whether the location of vibration affected pain relief, the researchers applied heat pain and vibration to the same arm in one set of experiments, and applied heat to one arm and vibration to the other in another set of tests.

Pain relief was greater when the vibration was applied to the same arm subjected to heat, compared with when the heat and vibration were applied to different arms.

“Dr. Staud and his colleagues have conducted a novel and innovative study that strives to drill down on the potential mechanisms that differ or do not differ between healthy people and chronic pain patients,” said Claudia Campbell, an assistant professor of psychiatry and behavioral sciences in the Johns Hopkins School of Medicine.

Results from various types of animal studies, including brain studies, suggest that vibration might interfere with transmission of pain signals from various parts of the body to the central nervous system.

The current study indicates that even in people who experience chronic pain, some mechanisms for decreasing pain intensity are still in working order, but don’t spring into action when needed.

“They have this capacity,” Dr. Staud said. “What we don’t understand is why they have problems using it.”

1. “Attenuation of experimental pain by vibro-tactile stimulation in patients with chronic local or widespread musculoskeletal pain,”  Staud R, et al. European Journal of Pain, online Feb 22, 2011. 

Source: University of Florida College of Medicine news release, Mar 22, 2011

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2 thoughts on “Vibration Therapy: Can Reduce Fibromyalgia, Chronic Head & Neck Pain Substantially”

  1. Steven Gronskei says:

    I have been using a motion or vibrating machine called a exerciser 2000 for three years now. I have had the symptoms of Fibromyalgia for over 30 years (since 1978) and been diagnosed only since 2005. I have tried so many different things to help with all the symptom. Pills, hot compresses, cold compresses, vitamins, accu-pressure and massages, accu-puncture, chiroprotic, ad nauseum. The best help I have found is the exerciser. The pain in my hands between the thumb and index finger was the first to go and has not returned. I still have joint pain in my hand but the continual severe pain between thumb and index finger is gone. Almost all symptoms are less intense or greatly diminished. Sinus infections are virtually a thing of the past, one in over three years now. Headaches that I lived with continually are now a one, two or three times a year event. The general to severe overall body pain is bearable with modest medication and life practices. I take Ibuprofen 800 three times a day as well as stretch continually during the day. I go to bed and rise at the same time trying not to vary the time by more than 20 minutes. I take vitamins that have proven helpful, c, e, and a CQ10 derivative among them. My IBS is better, my whole life is better and I felt so good at the end of the first year I started mild exercises again in addition to the walking I have always done. Bottom line The exerciser gave me back my life.

  2. Koniome1! says:

    The San Antonio Zoo has these chairs, you put in a dollar in quarters, and your feet go on a vibrating platform. OH MI GOSH I felt like I could walk the park for another 4 hours afterward. It was a minute long I think. Very strong vibration. Similar to the game at chuck e cheese, where you try to hold on to the vibrating handles as long as you can. I’m gonna get my kid to build me something with an Arduino Uno board, they’re only 15 bucks, then you program it, hook it up with your power supply and whatnot, you can build basically anything with an arduino. also, find some red wasps and have one sting you on the part that hurts. i can’t wait till winter is over so i can get stung again. my hubby thinks im crazy

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