Vibration can help reduce certain types of pain in patients by more than 40%, according to University of Florida (UF) researchers.

Encouraged by the prospect that vibration therapy could bring pill-free pain relief to chronic sufferers, “the vibration truly represents an analgesic effect,” said Roland Staud, MD, a professor of rheumatology and clinical immunology at UF College of Medicine.

Naturally occurring mechanisms help to blunt the severity of pain signals sent to the brain, but effectiveness of those systems varies from person to person, and in some people they fail altogether. Previous studies have shown that individuals with pain disorders of unknown cause — including fibromyalgia, migraine, and irritable bowel syndrome — are less efficient at inhibiting pain.

One therapy that researchers use, ironically, is to subject individuals to pain of a different kind. The treatment is somewhat effective, but has its downside. University of Florida researchers  applied pain-inducing heat to the forearms of participants, some of whom had fibromyalgia, some of whom had head and neck pain, and some who were pain free.

The researchers then used a special motor to deliver a high-frequency vibration to the skin and deep tissues of the arm to see whether that would relieve the pain caused by the heat. It did.

All three groups of patients experienced a 40% reduction in pain when the vibration was applied.

To determine whether the location of vibration affected pain relief, the researchers applied heat pain and vibration to the same arm in one set of experiments, and applied heat to one arm and vibration to the other in another set of tests. Pain relief was greater when the vibration was applied to the same arm subjected to heat, compared with when the heat and vibration were applied to different arms.

Results from various types of animal studies, including brain studies, suggest that vibration might interfere with transmission of pain signals from various parts of the body to the central nervous system.

The study indicates that even in people who experience chronic pain, some mechanisms for decreasing pain intensity are still in working order, but don’t spring into action when needed.

The findings will be published in an upcoming print edition of the European Journal of Pain.

[Source: University of Florida College of Medicine]