Self-Myofascial Release Vibration: Gimmick or Game Changer?
Foam rolling has taken the fitness world by storm, so much so it is arguably a household term. Anyone who has used one knows you don’t have to be a professional athlete to benefit from the tools either. Physical job? Tough workout? Long yoga session or just a long day on your feet? Your foam roller is your best friend and a perfect supplement to massage or physical therapy. If you don’t believe me check it out! Research has even proven it time and again - Research Overview.
Chances are if you’re reading this you have probably already decided that vibrating foam rollers are an overpriced gimmick and have one of our RAD toolkits sitting in the corner of your studio but if you’re still on the fence let me answer a few more questions for you.
WAIT, WHAT'S A VIBRATING FOAM ROLLER? MAYBE I WANT ONE!
Vibrating foam rollers/tools are the latest evolution of SMR tools. Look on any marketplace and you’ll see them. They claim to offer greater benefits than traditional, non-mechanical SMR and many garner what they perceive as positive results from using these tools but this hasn’t been scientifically or medically proven yet. Studies have begun but many of them are being funded and oftentimes even run by companies that sell a vibrating tool. Ah... the science of the salesman. Be wary of it.
That is not to say serious studies have not been done. Less biased research indicates that vibration can make you feel better, decrease delayed onset muscle soreness, and increase dorsiflexion range of motion. Vibration stimulus may also have some intriguing benefits such as the stimulation of Pacinian corpuscles. Further investigation is needed to determine if these are relevant benefits, however, and to rule out the powerful placebo effect.
Adding an unnecessary element like vibration or temperature is just a distraction from the real work these SMR tools can do, however, and in RAD’s opinion, is a bit of an excuse to overcharge. Nonmechanical SMR tools like the ones RAD puts into the world are a fraction of the cost of mechanical tools and have proven benefits. Why not stick with what has been guaranteed to work for over thirty years? That’s what we say.
For example….You remember the cold rollers that added the stimuli of cold temperature?
Neither do we. Touted as a game-changer these foam rollers didn’t last on the market very long. The research didn’t hold up. Countless consumers purchased them wanting to enhance their massage and myofascial experience though. This time hold off a bit. Let’s see where vibrating rollers are in a few years after serious studies have been done. For now invest in something cost effective, tried, and true. You want real benefits, not the placebo effect.
Wikipedia identifies ‘A placebo [as] a substance or treatment with no active therapeutic effect. A placebo may be given to a person in order to deceive the recipient into thinking that it is an active treatment’. The effect was officially ‘discovered’ during WW2 when Dr. Henry Beecher ran out of morphine. Instead of telling his patients he applied a saline solution which he claimed was morphine. Remarkably it worked. His patients remained calm and actually claimed to experience physiological changes similar to that of a body under the influence of morphine.
Check out this incredible and much more current study, Mind Over Milkshake, which demonstrates the power of our thoughts and expectations on results. This should make you question whether results of an intervention are due to the intervention itself (vibration, for example) or if the expectation and subsequent physiological changes are due to the placebo effect.
Vibrating foam rollers are, most likely, in the placebo camp. The vibration is tricking your body into thinking you are getting more benefit than you actually are, and the physiological effect of applied vibration creates numbness and temporary relief which can be misinterpreted as actual repair and healing.
DOWNSIDES TO VIBRATING SMR
There also appear to be some drawbacks to using the vibrating tools that are currently on the market. For instance, you cannot target the origin/insertion of muscles where the GTO (Golgi Tendon Organ~~~The little receptors that are most responsible for muscle lengthening with SMR) is found and this is where you would put pressure to inhibit a hypertonic muscle. Neither can you contact hard-to-reach structures such as the subclavius under the clavicle or the rotatores between the vertebrae in the spine.
It isn’t advisable to use it on your neck or head either because the vibration may cause a headache.
Generally while using these new-fangled SMR tools the feeling in the tissue is too vague to sense what's really going on. Essentially the user ends up numbing the tissues (ahem, remember that placebo effect we talked about?) rather than creating awareness and seeking dissociation of structures. This is properly achieved by not only pressure but also lengthening of the tissues and shearing of the body across a tool. Don’t need no vibration for that! Just a basic self-myofascial release tool: Batteries neither included nor necessary!
Don’t get me wrong, there are benefits to all sorts of different external stimuli on the body: pressure, temperature, stretch, cold, heat, light from a laser, compression, loading (Wolff's law), visualization... you get the picture. It is indisputable that there are many ways to stimulate the nervous system but we are still not certain which is the most beneficial way. The truth is that context likely determines the answer. Vibration might be just what one person needs to find benefit and relief, but the next fifty have to look elsewhere.
Some users have also commented that vibrating tools tended to make their body numb and they felt as though they were vacating the site that they were releasing. The work is being done externally by a foreign object as opposed to internally by their own nervous system response. That is because vibrating tools utilize centripetal and exogenous vibration (developing from external factors) and there is a simple and free way to create centrifugal and endogenous vibration (developing from internal factors). Try saying ‘'buzzzzzz'’ like a bumble bee and notice how the tissues in your body vibrate? That is vibration from the inside out and I bet studies would say it is just as effective as the exogenous vibration created by a tool.
THE NIMBLE 9 - MORE THAN ISSUES IN THE TISSUES
At RAD we believe the benefits of SMR are more than local structural changes at the site of mechanotransduction. It is crucial to find the cause of your individual soreness, tension or pain and then provide your body with the behavioral change that it is yearning. That is what we teach in our RAD Mobility courses. Individuals are encouraged to consider their own history and to assess themselves through a variety of techniques (visually, through palpation, and by using the Nimble 9 movement assessment).
Unless we’re dealing with an acute injury or chronic tension, tightness/pain is multifactorial and involves much more than issues in the tissues. That said the mechanical stimulus from a tool is a powerful first step and the Nimble 9 allows you to identify where you are stuck and guides you to precise locations of the body release.
We also recommend visualizing a release and breathing deeply and slowly to maximize expansion and retraction of the cells in your body. By creating tactical biomechanical change we hope to positively affect the nervous system and to consequently improve how we move and feel.
That's really the heart of why we developed the RAD tools and predominantly the reason why our tools are, generally, smaller than other offerings on the market. It's to allow the user to really target the exact place where the mobility impairment is located and to create change in the targeted tissue so that our biomechanics improve. The focus should be on a person's ability to perceive what's going on internally, analyze that feedback, and determine the best course of action from there.
PUT YOUR MONEY TO BETTER USE, MY FRIEND!
To cut to the chase there are many ways to stimulate the nervous system and if you like vibrating tools, go for it. As always, it’s your call. RAD Roller won’t be coming out with a vibrating tool unless earth shattering research emerges to demonstrate that the technique is truly a game changer. Our advice …?
Save the money you would spend on the inflated cost of a vibrating roller and instead invest in a variety of SMR tools so that you can access all of the structures in your body.
Better yet, take a course and enhance your knowledge or use the extra $200 you saved by not purchasing the vibrating device and book two appointments with the best clinician in town so that you can get assessed and learn strategies for improving your mobility.