What’s Vibrational Therapy, and How Can It Help People with Cerebral Palsy?

Many people with cerebral palsy (CP) benefit greatly from physical therapy, which can improve functions such as strength and flexibility, and decrease negative symptoms such as pain. However, people with very severe motor and/or cognitive problems may be unable to follow instructions and perform voluntary exercises. This limits their treatment options outside of pharmacological and surgical approaches.

Patients with cerebral palsy, especially those who are severely affected, may benefit from vibrational therapy as a complement to more ‘traditional’ therapies and treatments.  

What Is Vibrational Therapy?

Vibrational therapy, or VT for short, involves mechanical oscillations, which indirectly stimulate neuromuscular structures. There are two main categories of VT: focal vibration and whole-body vibration. As the names suggest, focal vibration can be targeted to a specific area, while the signals in whole-body vibration are indirectly transmitted throughout the body for more generalized effects. Unlike with other therapeutic modalities, patients do not have to meet clear physical or cognitive prerequisites in order to participate.

Prior Research on Vibrational Therapy

Recently, there has been a great deal of research into the short and long-term effects of VT on patients with cerebral palsy. In particular, work has focused on how it affects gross motor function, strength, gait, posture control, and the structure of bones and muscles. Moreover, many researchers have worked to understand the mechanisms underlying observed benefits from VT.

Review of Vibrational Therapy as a Treatment for Cerebral Palsy  

In June 2018, Ramona Ritzmann and colleagues published a review of research on vibrational therapy as a treatment for cerebral palsy. Their article, in the journal Neuropsychiatric Disease and Treatments, gives an overview of short and long-term effects of VT on major symptoms of cerebral palsy.

Ritzmann et al. identified 28 studies that provided information on how VT affected the following variables:

  • Gross motor function
  • Strength
  • Gait
  • Posture
  • Mobility
  • Spasticity
  • Reflex

They found papers by searching Medline/Pubmed, Google Scholar, and Web of Knowledge with the keywords “cerebral palsy” and “vibration.”

Results: Short and Long Term Benefits of Vibrational Therapy

From their research, Ritzmann et al. found that gross motor function, strength, gait, and mobility improved after one acute session of VT. These effects were maintained for up to 30 minutes. In the long-term, VT resulted in reduced muscle tone and spasticity, as well as improved movement (gross motor function, strength, gait, and mobility). It also increased muscle mass and bone-mineral density, although there appeared to be no effects on posture control.


Potential Mechanism

Ritzman et al. suggest that “[Cerebral palsy’s] specific inhibitory impact at the spinal level of the neuromuscular system might represent the origins of VT benefits…VT might counteract disease-related spasticity and hypertonicity. As a consequence, factors interfering with precise movement execution are diminished for a certain period during and after VT.” This may lead to the decrease in severity of cerebral palsy symptoms.

Value of Vibrational Therapy

VT is a promising treatment for cerebral palsy because it can provide substantial benefits to patients who are unable to participate in other types of therapy due to physical or cognitive limitations. It also can be used to address issues in many different parts of the body. Finally, its flexibility and ease of application makes it a good candidate for integration into conventional therapy sessions.  

Study Limitations

Ritzmann et al. note that future research should consider the effects of VT on adult subjects, since most of the papers they found focused on children. It is important for research to include all sub-populations of people with cerebral palsy, because age and other individual characteristics could affect the success of VT. Future studies should also implement greater controls; for example, they should take into account the effects of other treatments that their participants are currently undergoing. Despite these limitations, however, the authors are optimistic about the role of VT in treating cerebral palsy, concluding that, “VT helps patients with CP to master daily life challenges by the facilitation of movement quality.”

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Ritzmann, Ramona, et al. “Vibration Therapy in Patients with Cerebral Palsy: a Systematic Review | NDT.” Open Access Journal of Sports Medicine, Dove Press, 18 June 2018, www.dovepress.com/vibration-therapy-in-patients-with-cerebral-palsy-a-systematic-review-peer-reviewed-article-NDT.

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