Equine Whole Body Vibration Research

Results of four whole-body vibration plate studies show little physiologic benefits, but brought forth questions about possible mental and pain relief aspects of the device.
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Four studies looked at possible benefits to horses of whole-body vibration plates.

Four studies looked at possible benefits to horses of whole-body vibration plates.

Four universities have recently looked at the effects that whole-body vibration (WBV) plates have on different classes of horses as well as different physiological aspects of the horse. All studies utilized WBV plates at 50 Hz. 

Research out of Michigan State University tested the effects of WBV on various parameters such as lameness and flexion test scores, stride length and heart rate. The acute phase of this study consisted of one 30-minute treatment, and the prolonged phase lasted three weeks, with treatments taking place five days per week. Findings suggested no differences between treatment and control groups. Although subjective, it was consistently noted that behavior improved throughout the there-week prolonged phase; all treated horses stood better and appeared to relax with each treatment while control horses were restless by comparison. It could be questioned whether this observed change warrants WBV treatment given few other measured differences, but it could explain the belief had by many in the horse industry that the treatment is beneficial.

A study from Texas A&M determined the effects of WBV on select muscle metabolites in yearling horses on stall rest. Horses completed WBV on a vibration plate 30 minutes per day, five days per week for four months. Blood serum was collected on Days 0, 30, 60, and 120 before a 30-minute turnout, after turnout (control group only), or vibration (treatment group only). The study determined that WBV of young horses on stall rest does not provide significant sustained muscular benefits. Further studies using uniform muscle biopsies and hourly blood collections post-vibration are recommended for further understanding of the potential therapeutic applications of WBV. 

A study from Middle Tennessee State University looked at the effects of WBV on bone density and other parameters in healthy, exercising horses. Horses were exercised (moderate intensity) for one hour per day, six days per week, on a mechanical exerciser. Treatment horses received WBV treatment for 45 minutes five days per week. X-rays of the cannon bone were taken at Days -28, 0, and 28 for determination of bone density. The results suggested in normal exercising horses, WBV does not further increase bone mineral content, influence markers of bone metabolism, or increase stride length. However, a decrease in heart rate might suggest the treatment is well accepted or might decrease pain, which merits further investigation. 

The fourth study was completed out of Otterbein University and examined the effect of WBV on hoof growth. During Trial 1, horses in the experimental group stood on the plate for 15 minutes per day, five days per week. During Trial 2, horses in the experimental group stood on the plate for 20 minutes per day, five days per week. On the first day of each trial, a Dremel scoring tool was used to make a mark at the quarters of each hoof, just under the coronary band. As the hoof grew, this mark allowed measurement of how much growth occurred by measuring the distance from the mark to the coronary band. This study showed no significant hoof growth rate increase with the use of WBV at 15- or 20-minute sessions, five days a week.

Summarized by Devan Catalano, MS.