Edema is fluid trapped in the body’s tissues. It occurs when capillaries leak fluid into the surrounding tissue, causing swelling. It can happen anywhere in the body but it is most noticeable in the arms, legs, ankles, hands and feet.
There are several causes of edema, including medication, pregnancy or an underlying medical condition (these may include heart failure, kidney and liver diseases, chronic venous insufficiency, and inadequate lymphatic system). Symptoms of edema include swelling or puffiness under the skin, stretched or shiny skin, indentation of skin after applying pressure, or when there is an increase in abdominal size. Edema can lead to pain, stiffness, increased risk for infection of the swollen area, scarring of the affected tissue, a decrease in blood circulation, loss of elasticity of the arteries, veins, joints and muscles, and an increased risk for the development of skin ulcers. Treatment for edema depends on the severity and cause. Mild edema generally resolves on its own. More significant edema is treated with medications that “flush out” the excess fluid. From a long-term perspective, any underlying medical condition needs to be treated to deal with edema. A doctor may suggest self-guided treatments, which include staying active and elevation of the affected limb to help bring the fluid back to the heart, compression of the limb, maintenance of a healthy body weight, and a reduction of salt intake.
There is little evidence to suggest that exercise alone is beneficial for edema. According to the MayoClinc.com website, muscle movement may help facilitate the flow of blood back to the heart1. A single 45 minute aquatic immersion exercise session demonstrated a positive effect on uncomplicated leg edema in pregnant woman2. Meanwhile, intermittent knee bending exercises during long bouts of standing was effective at suppressing lower leg swelling and minimizing complaints of leg pain, leg dullness and whole body fatigue in male subjects3. Meanwhile in elderly woman, raised leg exercises demonstrate little difference in leg circumference changes when compared to non-exercising subjects4. Thus, the beneficial effects of exercise on edema may be limited only to specific populations using specific modes of exercise. It could be suggested that light exercise may complement or assist other forms of treatment in the alleviation of edema.
Can whole body vibration help?
Research examining the effects of whole body vibration on edema has yet to be performed. However, whole body vibration exercise has been found to be effective at increasing mean blow flow velocity and reducing the resistive index in lower extremity blood vessels5. Research has also shown improvement in muscle strength and power in lower extremity muscles6-8. These improvements were similar or greater than typical exercise programs. One study in particular found significant increases in plantar flexor strength and power in an older population9. While the health benefits of using a whole body vibration plate are well documented, results are population specific; it is unknown if the benefits will translate to other populations. This includes whether these changes will impact edema.
Due to the nature of edema and the association with potential underlying medical issues, it is essential that an individual speak with a physician prior to adding whole body vibration to his/her exercise routine. Pregnancy, some circulatory issues as well as various cardiac conditions are considered contraindications to using a whole body vibration machine. It is important that the physician understand whole body vibration so he/she can help determine whether the benefits will outweigh any risks or possible contraindications.
Once a physician has cleared an individual to use a whole body vibration plate, it should be started at a lower intensity and duration. In addition, the affected limb(s) and other symptoms should be continuously monitored for changes. Whole body vibration therapy should be discontinued if any symptoms related to edema become worse, and any changes should be discussed with a physician. Once an individual has become comfortable with the machine, and no changes in symptoms occur or symptoms improve, the intensity of exercises can be increased and exercises at the appropriate level may be added. In general, if an individual experiences shortness of breath, pain or dizziness when using a whole body vibration plate, it should be discontinued immediately.
- http://www.mayoclinic.com/health/edema/DS01035/DSECTION=lifestyle-and-home-remedies, retrieved March 12, 2012.
- Hartmann S, Huch R. 2005. Response of pregnancy leg edema to a single immersion exercise session, Acta Obstetrica et Gynecologica Scandinavica, 84(12), 1150-3.
- Uda S, Seo A, Yoshinaga F. 1997. Swell-preventing effect of intermittent exercise on lower leg during standing work, Industrial Health, 35(1), 36-40.
- Ciocon JO, Galindo-Ciocon D, Galindo DJ. 1995. Raised leg exercises for leg edema in the elderly, Angiology, 46(1), 19-25.
- Imhof H. 2001. Whole-body vibration exercise leads to alterations in muscle blood volume. Clinical Physiology, 21(3), 377-82.
- Torvinen S, Kannu P, Sievänen H, Järvinen TA, Pasanen M, Kontulainen S, Järvinen TL, Järvinen M, Oja P, Vuori I. 2002. Effect of a vibration exposure on muscular performance and body balance. Randomized cross-over study. Clinical Physiology and Functional Imaging, 22(2), 145-52.
- Bogaerts AC, Delecluse C, Claessens AL, Troosters T, Boonen S, Verschueren SM. 2009. Effects of whole body vibration training on cardiorespiratory fitness and muscle strength in older individuals (a 1-year randomised controlled trial). Age Ageing, 38(4), 448-54.
- Machado A, García-López D, González-Gallego J, Garatachea N. 2009. Whole-body vibration training increases muscle strength and mass in older women: a randomized-controlled trial. Scandinavian Journal of Medicine and Science Sports.
- Rees SS, Murphy AJ, Watsford ML. 2008. Effects of whole-body vibration exercise on lower-extremity muscle strength and power in an older population: a randomized clinical trial. Physical Therapy, 88(4), 462-70.
Are you a chiropractor who is currently using or interested in using whole body vibration in your practice? We work with chiropractors all over North America. Contact us for more information on our chiropractor program.
NOTE: The information presented is not intended to diagnose or prescribe. Pain can be from many causes, be sure to consult your health care professional before starting this or any exercise regime.