The Effect of Vibration on Recovery

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Recovery is an integral component to pursuing health, wellbeing, and sustainable high performance.  Body-bases strategies, including the use of technologic devices, are important contributors.

The Practices of the Healthcare Athlete is a polyvagal informed perspective for pursuing health, wellbeing, and sustainable high performance.  In essence, this equates to the development and implementation of mind-based and body-based skills and strategies that optimize our biology for the pursuit of these goals.  A unique component of this paradigm is the incorporation of technology to support and further enhance our recovery, which is an essential component of health, wellbeing, and sustainable high performance.  It is important to apply current research within this paradigm to ensure that all strategies are grounded in the best available evidence.

Hallihan and Siegle (2022) recently reported a study investigating the impact of a vibration device worn on the wrist on recovery following strenuous exercise on a stationary bicycle. There were 22 participants in the study who were university athletes, including both competitive Division I and club student athletes.  The outcome studied was recovery following exercise.  Recovery was determined subjectively as well as on the basis of several physiological metrics, including skin conductance, heart rate variability (HRV), and electroencephalographic (EEG) metrics.  The EEG metrics of particular interest were the presence of alpha and theta waves, which are indicative of relaxation within the brain.  The authors reported an association between the self-reported most calming vibration patterns and increased HRV.  There was no association with increased alpha and theta wave activity on EEG.

The authors inferred that the results indicated that vibration patterns applied to the wrist provided physiological recovery, as determined by an increase in HRV.  The absence of corresponding changes on EEG demonstrated that brain-based relaxation was not required for HRV to increase, indicating physiological recovery independent from brain-based recovery.  The study provides evidence of the ability for body-based strategies to positively impact recovery, even without a contribution from the brain.

Limitations of the study include the small sample size and limited duration of the study.  The findings of the study, nonetheless, provide support for the body-based strategies to promote recovery.  One potential area for future research is to increase the sample size and provide a longer duration of intervention in order to determine the incremental benefits on recovery of prolonged exposure to vibration, both at each application and over a greater length of time.  There are several additional areas for future study.  Reproduction of the results within different populations would be highly beneficial to demonstrate robustness of the predicted improvement in HRV following vibration.  It would also be important to study the impact of other strategies, such as breathing patterns, on HRV and EEG both independent of exercise and following strenuous activity.  This would provide additional evidence regarding whether or not other body-based strategies are similarly associated with improved recovery without a concordant impact on brain activity.

The findings of the study are in accordance with the principles and predictions of Polyvagal Theory.  An important element of the polyvagal informed paradigm is the incorporation of both mind-based and body-based strategies to shift into preferred biological states to optimize our ability to perform a given task or activity.  Recovery is an integral component as it is the process through which our biology is able to heal and repair following stress or strain in order to be prepared for future activities.  From a polyvagal informed paradigm, it would be predicted that body-based strategies would be capable of positively impacting recovery.  One physiological determinant of the extent of recovery is HRV.  In the study reported by Hallihan and Siegle (2022), this prediction was encountered as the vibration applied to the wrist was associated with an increase in HRV, indicating improved recovery.  The mechanism by which this occurs, from a polyvagal informed perspective, is through ventral vagal activation.  Ultimately, a feedback loop is established that results in afferent sensation of the vibration stimulus which is coupled with ventral vagal efferent pathways innervating the heart to impact HRV.  The finding of increased HRV without EEG evidence of alpha and theta wave activity indicates that this effect is independent of brain-based control.  The ability for body-based strategies to independently impact recovery is further predicted by Polyvagal Theory through the ventral vagal pathways and the corresponding impact on cardiac physiology.

Another element of this study which corresponds to the polyvagal informed paradigm of The Practices of the Healthcare Athlete is the integration of technology within the skills and strategies.  The study provides direct evidence of the ability of a wrist worn vibration device to impact recovery.  This finding supports the implementation of technology within daily routines to support and promote recovery.

Optimizing the pursuit of health, wellbeing, and sustainable high performance within The Practices of the Healthcare Athlete is based upon the polyvagal informed implementation of mind-based and body-bases skills and strategies to support our biology.  The application of technology in this pursuit is an important element in this regard. 

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Hallihan C, Siegle GJ.  Effect of Vibroacoustic Stimulation on Athletes Recovering From Exercise.  Eur J Applied Physiol, 2022: 122: 2427-2435.

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