Some of you may have heard of whole body vibration (WBV) or you might know it as power plate and in the equine world as Theraplate and Vitafloor. As a horse owner you might be wondering what it is exactly and how it might help your horse.
Research is gradually building on the potential affects whole body vibration (WBV) has on horses. There is quite a lot on how it is beneficial to humans but not so much on it application to horses.
So let us start with what it is. WBV involves a force plate that vibrates while your horse stands on it. These vibrations travel through the whole body. The manufactures of WBV plates claim they offer the following benefits
- Regenerates bone density
- Stimulates hoof growth
- Stimulates blood circulation
- Shortens recovery process
- Decreases injury risk
- Lowers cortisol levels for relaxation
- Helps with prevention and treatment of colic
I do use claim above as not all the above is proven by scientific research yet. Research is building in this area to see what short term and long term affects could be.
From current research it would appear that hoof growth is affected by WBV but only during treatment and more so in the first 30 days (Halsberge, 2018). I might add that treatment involves two 30 min sessions for 5 days a week over 30 days. So for certain hoof issues this maybe beneficial where growth is needed to help recovery.
Other research has looked at the affect on muscle activity and its warm-up effect compared to a traditional warm-up. The research concluded that there was no measurable activity of muscle nor any sign of a warm-up effect using WBV (Buchner et al., 2017). So while it may increase circulation it does not significantly increase more than other modalities such as massage or doing a traditional warm-up
Research did find that the multifidus muscle cross sectional area improved after 30 days and symmetry did improve after 60 days (Halsberghe et al., 2017) of WBV. Suggesting it could be an alternative to dynamic mobilisation exercises like carrot stretches. However horses received two 30 min sessions a day, 5 days a week for 60 days.
Research has also been conducted on chronic lame horses. A similar dosage of WBV as previous studies mentioned above occurred. They found no statistically significant change in lameness after 30 or 60 days one horse even got worse after a single session (Halsberge, 2017).
Skeletal research has also been conducted and found that WBV was insufficient to overcome osteopenia (bone loss) from immobilisation due to disuse or stabled horses and therefore may not elicit bone remodelling (Huseman et al., 2019). Other research indicates that if the horse is unable to do light exercise then WBV can potentially maintain bone density (Hulak , unpublished; Maher et al., 2020). This implies that as part of box rest WBV could be beneficial.
Gait improvement has also been looked into and WBV has been shown to have no effect on stride length (Sugg et al., 2019; Maher et al., 2020). However this research did indicate a relaxation effect on healthy horses.
A big question most owners would have is how much does WBV cost and are there other treatments that can generate similar or better outcomes. Well a basic WBV unit would cost you about £8000 which maybe more than your horses cost you to buy! You can rent them for around £100 a week or a 30 min session will cost you between £20-30 depending on if it is a yard visit or just an individual. The majority of research indicates to get beneficial effects you need to be giving your horse two 30 min sessions a day, 5 days a week for 30 days or more. If you pay per treatment it would cost you between £200-300 per week. A one off session may relax your horse but won’t have any long term effects.
So if your horse is rehabbing from an injury renting a unit may help in the long run but if you are just having a session as part of regular maintenance or instead of a massage then you might find just having the massage a better investment of your money.
Massage, acupressure, carrot-stretches, core exercises, and ridden work can bring about some of the beneficial changes discussed above at a fraction of the cost. You could have your horse massaged twice a week for less than what it cost to rent a WBV unit.
Whole body vibration does have its place in rehabilitation but does need to be used frequently to bring about a beneficial affect. Hopefully in the future more research will be conducted allowing a better insight into its uses but for maintenance sessions a couple of times a year it has little benefit.
Buchner H.H.F., Zimmer L., Haase L., Perrier J. & Peham C., (2017) Effects of whole body vibration on the horse: Actual vibration, muscle activity and warm-up effect. Journal of Equine Veterinary Science, 51, 54-60.
Halsberghe B.T. (2017) Long-Term and immediate effects of whole body vibration on chronic lameness in the horse: A pilot study. Journal of Equine Veterinary Science, 48, 121-128,e2.
Halsberghe B.T. (2018) Effect of two months whole body vibration on hoof growth rate in the horse: A pilot study. Research in Veterinary Science, 119, 37-42.
Halsberghe B.T., Gordon-Ross P. & Peterson R. (2017) Whole body vibration affects the cross-sectional area and symmetry of the m.multifidus of the thoracolumbar spine in the horse. Equine Veterinary Education, 29, 9, 493-499.
Huseman C.J., Welskjr T.H., Suva L.J., Dominguez B.J., Paulk C., Vogelsang M.M. & Sigler D.H. (2019) Skeletal response to whole-body vibration in stalled, yearling horses. Journal of Equine Veterinary Science, 76, 46-47.
Maher K., Spooner H., Hoffman R. & Haffner J. (2020) The influence of whole body vibration on heart rate, stride length, and bone mineral content in the mature exercising horse. Comparative Exercise Physiology, 16, 5, 403-408.
Sugg S., Spooner H., Berger A & Haffner J. (2019) Effects of whole-body vibration on lameness, stride length, cortisol and HR in healthy horses. Journal of Equine Veterinary Science, 76, 56-57.