The potential benefits of vibration therapy have been long studied, in 1867 Gustav Zander created a series of weights and pullies to study the effects, and today NASA uses vibration therapy to prevent bone loss in astronauts (Fanous 2016), but the studies into the benefits to working horses is very much in its infancy (Mackechnie-Guire et al 2018). There are 2 types of vibration therapy, whole body vibration (WBV) and Local vibration (LV), there are also different vibration directions and intensities, herein lies the complexities in establishing the usefulness and applications of the technology (Fanous 2016). Vibration therapy has shown to have positive effects on muscles, tendons and bone in the human, the vibrations act as a stimulant to the musculoskeletal system, showing benefits in the reduction of muscle soreness post exercise, increases in joint flexibility and an increase in muscle strength and power (Corciello et al 2016, Germann et al 2018). The effects are still questionable however, mainly due to the lack of standardised protocols in application, more research needs to be done in order to determine the optimal application methods, for instance studies have shown that local muscle vibration may have a more beneficial effect than whole body vibration techniques with recent studies showing that WBV used for a length of time could have adverse effects (Halsbrghe 2017). More research needs to be done to determine the relationship between certain vibration parameters and their outcomes (Germann et al 2018).
The benefits of the technique have been widely attributed to the stimulation of the tonic vibratory reflex, this system simplistically put is when the muscle fibres are involuntarily stretched through the vibrations, triggering development and a subsequent increase in strength (Germann et al 2018), Musumeci (2017) adds that musculoskeletal structures respond to vibrations due to their need to facilitate the vibrations by rapidly altering muscle stiffness, he added other potential applications such as treating hormonal pathologies, but treatments must be personalised as effects of the stimulus can vary. Halsberghe (2017) echoed this, finding WBV for the treatment of equine lameness had unreliable results, on average it had unremarkable results and some horses only improved in the short term, he stated that the study raised more questions of the technology than answers and no therapy is universal in its application. With this information we are forced to ask the question, is it a “hit or miss” situation, Halsberghe (2017) stated more research is needed to identify which pathologies are likely to benefit from which applications.
In humans, studies have shown the technology is useful in rehabilitation, to re-stimulate the neuro-muscular connections and enable easier recruitment of the muscle tissues by the patient (Hayes 2019), however other studies have shown it not to be superior to more conventional forms of exercise (Novella 2015), so is vibration therapy just simply an easier (perhaps lazier) way of muscle stimulation that could be achieved through conventional training, or could it prove to be a hugely beneficial compliment to performance training programmes?
There have been claims that WBV increases hoof growth, this claim requires more research, Lowe (2017) found inconclusive results when testing against manufacturer recommended treatment time but stated that an increase in treatment time could prove to give a positive result, however considering Halsberghe (2017) this could suggest that risk of potential negative effects could outweigh the possible gain.
Vitafloor, a leading manufacturer of equine specific vibrating floors claim the following:
· Regenerates bone density Not just in the legs but also in the ribs. Bone density can increase by up to 20% (human study).
· Stimulates blood circulation Improves circulation throughout the body – place your hands on the horse and feel the vibrations all the way up through to the shoulders.
· Offers effective, non-invasive treatment Vibration training is a non-invasive treatment with a documented positive effect on Osteoporosis and Silicosis. It also helps in the treatment of soft tissue injuries, joint soreness, Laminitis and Navicular Syndrome.
· Shortens recovery process Recovery, especially of tendon injuries, can be reduced significantly.
· Helps with Colic Helps in the prevention and treatment of Colic.
· Stimulates hoof growth Promotes healthier and faster hoof growth.
· Helps relax horses Lowers cortisol levels for relaxation.
· Burns fat and helps maintain condition Vibration uses energy and burns fat. Ideal for maintaining condition whilst on ‘box rest’.
· Promotes suppleness Preliminary studies show that treatment can help improve back muscles and promote suppleness.
· Helps with warm-up Tests show that treatment enhances warm-up – this has a positive effect on performance as less energy is needed for transitions.
· Reduces risk of injury Regular use can help to reduce the risk of muscle or tendon tears and bone fractures.
· Provides competitive advantage Offers all disciplines competitive advantage. Helps achieve greater acceleration with less energy exerted.
Many of these claims are supported by human research, other animal research, tests and preliminary studies and need to be proven by evidence based research appertaining to the equine, however Gomes et al (2018) outlined some claims that have power, a reduction in cortisol and creatine kinase levels has been documented, pointing at a reduction in stress levels and low intensity exercise response. An increase in bone density has also been recorded however not more so than horses in exercise work, this could point to benefits for horses on box rest, however other studies have contradicted this finding, once again this could be due to the varieties in application, the benefits remain questionable (Berger 2018).
Mackechnie-Guire et al (2018) stated that a limited number of studies have shown an increase in musculature responsible for posture in the horse post vibration treatment, more research is needed to better understand this relationship but hypothesis’ are a positive effect on locomotion, the subsequent study looked to assess the benefits of cycloid vibration therapy (Fig.1) on the musculature and locomotion of a group of horses, finding that the horses seemed to move more symmetrically post treatment, although the mechanism for this remains undefined it did show to alter thoracic range of motion, thoracolumbar musculature, and pelvic symmetry positively in the short term.
Fig.2 The cycloidal vibration therapy roller used in Mackechnie-Guire (2018), placed in the thoracic region 10-13.
The unit used in Mackenchie-Guire (2018) was an Equissage which provides a patented cycloid vibration therapy, the company claim USP’s that make it a superior product, the study showed clear benefits, but more research is needed to establish whether the results would be unique to the product. Equissage also ran clinical trials which showed an increased stride and subsequent reduction in work load on a thoroughbred race horse treated with their product.
The applications of vibration therapy in the equine are only just starting to be explored, understanding the differing effects of the different ways of administration is paramount in correct application and recognition of benefits, however the immediate benefits of less invasive vibrations are anecdotally visible and beginning to be scientifically proven. Studies have shown the increase in performance of sound horses which could support it being beneficial in short term performance enhancement but the results are more questionable for the lame horse and other claimed applications.
Cerciello, S., Rossi, S., Visonà, E., Corona, K., & Oliva, F. (2016). Clinical applications of vibration therapy in orthopaedic practice. Muscles, ligaments and tendons journal, 6(1), 147-56. doi:10.11138/mltj/2016.6.1.147
Germann, D., El Bouse, A., Shnier, J., Abdelkader, N., & Kazemi, M. (2018). Effects of local vibration therapy on various performance parameters: a narrative literature review. The Journal of the Canadian Chiropractic Association, 62(3), 170-181.
What is vibration therapy? Fanous. S, 2016,
Musumeci, Giuseppe. 2017. "The Use of Vibration as Physical Exercise and Therapy." J. Funct. Morphol. Kinesiol. 2, no. 2: 17.
Hayes. H, 2019
Novella. S, 2015,
Whole Body Vibration Therapy
Halsberghe. T, 2017,
RussellMackechnie-Guire,bErikMackechnie-Guire,aRosieBush,aRuthWyatt,cDianeFisher,dMarkFisher,dLornaCameron, 2018, eA Controlled, Blinded Study Investigating the Effect That a 20-Minute Cycloidal Vibration has on Whole Horse Locomotion and Thoracolumbar Profiles, Journal of Equine Veterinary Science, Volume 71, Pages 84-89
Lowe, Sharlee, "The Effect of Whole Body Vibration on Equine Hoof Growth" (2017). Honors Thesis Projects. 56. https://digitalcommons.otterbein.edu/stu_honor/56
Applicability of Whole-Body Vibration Exercises as a new tool in Veterinary Medicine Mayara V. F. Gomes,1 Ivan F. C. Santos,1* Sheila C. Rahal,1 Bruna M. Silva1
THE INFLUENCE OF WHOLE BODY VIBRATION ON BONE MINERAL CONTENT AND BONE METABOLISM IN THE STALLED HORSE Amy Berger