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artistic, social, and biological approaches to sonic environments...

The Effectiveness of Vibroacoustic Sound Therapy in Medicine

     The relationship between human and sound carries an internal connection that affects the development of a person both physically and psychologically. From the beginning of human existence, sound has been a crucial tool in the survival of man. As an admonition of nearby predators, sound’s primary use for people was a reminder to escape. However, as time progressed, humans acknowledge the depth of sound and incorporated it into their lives, transforming this phenomenon from a natural noise to a sophisticated interpretation of one’s surroundings.


  Sound’s representation of various aspects has been crucial in the progression of the human race. Its introduction to language and communication contributed significantly to the development of people and is argued to be the most advantageous quality for people during that time. Rising from the lowest part of the food chain to predators of the world, people gradually shifted from using sound as a method of survival to a recreational activity. From this transformation arose music and verbal expression, an asset that has become a major contributor to human’s identity. This level of development and sophistication has given people a form of acknowledgment that separates them from regular animals.


  Man’s manipulation of sound to create aesthetically pleasing noises is a prime example of this intelligence and continues to be integrated in society. Even though sound’s primary role morphed over time, its importance is engraved in the mind of all individuals. This ancient yet robust history between sound and people contributes to why noise carries such an importance. Used mostly as a form of expression and enjoyment in today’s culture, sound continues to reinforce the original form of communication. This bond is essential to man’s being and development.

  The history of medicine has experienced rapid advancements and transformations throughout its existence. Its unique background sparked innovative approaches to medicine and allowed various techniques to be incorporated into the medical culture. A new treatment being investigated by doctors and researchers is the use of vibroacoustic therapy, seeking to improve physical conditions. Whether it is healing a wound or breathing, the living body continuously uses energy at the cellular level. The body is always moving, and the microvibrations produced from the cells essentially retrieve energy and are involved in immunologic reactions. These biological occurrences produce rapid vibration in the body that will gradually decrease in speed after injury, intense physical stress, long-term fatigue, and time.


  The aim of vibroacoustic therapy is to restore the cellular energy lost over time, thus improving the overall health of the patient. The main claim is that vibration of sound increases cellular movement, which will contribute to the improvement of the body. Researchers are unsure whether vibroacoustic devices have the capability to increase energy levels of microvibrations to an optimum state. This three-month project consisted of each person receiving treatment that varied over time. Some sessions played music, which was used as a placebo, to insure that the physical and mental results were coming from the vibroacoustic therapy and not some unknown variable. After the experiment, the researcher found that the subjects had a “greater degree of improvement in muscle tone with music plus vibroacoustic treatment than when music alone was given”.

  Throughout the years, many other cases found vibroacoustic therapy to be beneficial with clients giving positive remarks of the treatment. “In 1993, one of four girls with spasticity in a pilot project to evaluate the effect appeared to derive beneficial results”  Dr. George Patrick, chief of recreation therapy in the Rehabilitiation Medicine Department Clinical Center of the National Institutes of Health (NIH) conducted a program of relaxation for pain and symptom-reduction to see the effects vibroacoustic therapy had on patients with various medical conditions. The study consisted of 272 patients with myriad of diagnoses from “cancer, heart, lung, and blood disorders, infectious diseases, mood disorders, and miscellaneous conditions”. He determined that a 22-minutes session resulted in a “cumulative reduction of pain and symptoms by 53%” (Vibroacoustic Sound Therapy Improves Pain Management and More page 4). In addition, other side effects such as tension, fatigue, pain, headache, and nausea were reduced after the therapy. A later study, led by Boyd-Brewer, emulated Dr. Patrick experiment with a smaller sample group of 41 patients partaking in chemotherapy at Florida’s Jupiter Medical Center in Palm Beach County. Boyd-Brewer reached a similar conclusion to Dr. Patrick in that vibroacoustic therapy reduced pain and symptoms.

  One study investigated the effectiveness in symptom reduction by tending to patients with gonarthrosis, a degenerative disease on the articular cartilage. Its aim “was to prove the effectiveness of vibroacoustic therapy as a monotherapy applied in patients with gonarthrosis”. The results of the experiment proved to be significant, thus posing the potential use of vibroacoustic therapy. The experiment randomly selected a group of 44 subjects suffering from degenerative knee joint disease, excluding those with recent swelling of the knee joint. “Patients with cancerous conditions, inflammation of the veins, pregnancy or kidney calculus are excluded from the use of vibroacoustics. The study conducted ten 15-minute sessions of vibroacoustic therapy which involved attaching applicators directly to the skin surrounding the knee joints”. The researchers carried out measurements before and after the therapy to assess its effectiveness. Results showed that patients felt less pain after the therapy sessions which also “connected with a reduction in the circumference of the sore knee joints in 91% of patients”. Because of the positive effects of vibroacoustic therapy on patients with this chronic disorder, it may become a future approach for treatment and recovery for individuals with gonarthrosis.

  Overall, Vibroacoustic Therapy has proven to be essential in the improvement of certain diseases and illness; however, it relatively new discovery has prevent and lack of validated results have prevent this treatment to be used widely.  The application of sound for mental healing has been a treatment used in different cultures throughout history. In fact, the idea came into practice centuries before the European’s exploration of the West. Popular in the eastern side of the world, the purpose of this technique was to create sounds with low vibrations, usually produced by an instrument or human vocals, to improve physical and mental health.


  The first known people to use this method were the Aborigines, a tribal group from Australia known for their unique markings and strange customs. Using a yidaki, also known as a didgeridoo, a traditional man-made instrument in which one blows air in to produce low vibrations, Aboriginal healers would create sounds to tend to ill tribal members. Not only did these sounds repair broken bones and muscle tears, the sounds also stabilized individuals who were mentally ill, soothing their minds and internal flow. Many modern sound healing equipment emulate the style and vibrations of the yidaki in attempt to assist sick patients. While not advance in technology, the purpose of the devices are similar to that of the yidaki which is to use sound to place patients in a calm state to initiate recovery.

  In ancient Egypt, it was believed that vowels were significantly powerful and sacred. For this reason, they were usually chanted by priests for prayer and healing. During that period of time, Egyptian priestesses would use a sistra, a type of musical rattle with metal discs. While performing healing rituals, this instrument would be accompanied by the harp, another therapeutic instrument, and played in reverberant chapels or burial chambers to amplify the sounds. Not only did this rattle produce pleasing jangling sounds, but it also generated sufficient amounts of ultrasound, a product that currently benefits modern hospitals and clinics as a potent healing modality. With this evidence, it is safe to assume that Egyptian priest did not use sistra simply to produce a calming soundscape, but to tend to the ill as an effective healing treatment.


   During the Greco-Roman period, sounds and music were used therapeutically to sooth the psyche and reduce anger and aggression. Many of the healing temples functioned as incubations, a process in which patients underwent dream sleep during their stay. The reverberant spaces and calm setting allowed vibrations to have a maximum effect on the body. These are few examples of traditional vibroacoustic therapy throughout history, and in each culture sound and music was understood to be a curative treatment for illnesses. Because of its positive results, many studies have been investigating the effects sound therapy on humans as well as its potential in replacing pharmaceutical prescriptions.


  In recent experiments, researchers have been exploring the use of sound therapy with mentally dysfunctional patients, specifically those with autism or aggressive impulses. The claim is that the procedure would reduce certain symptoms from the patient and improve social behaviors. Although sound therapy is a fairly new approach, the results of current studies align with those of past experiments and culture practices, suggesting potential in therapeutic treatment.

  Researchers from the Center for Rehabilitation Research and the Center for Adult Habilitation conducted an experiment on the effectiveness of vibroacoustic music therapy as a method of treatment for patients with developmental disorders and challenging behaviors. It is universally agreed that music sparks an internal feelings in listeners. The connection between the individual and music is a strong appreciation that refers back to the beginning of humanity, an enjoyment that can potentially effect the health of the listener. Since the start of vibroacoustic experimentation, which originated in Scandinavia regions during the 1970s, there have been cases that suggest this therapy reduces muscle tones, spasms, pain, and anxiety.


  People with developmental disorders and challenging behaviors are known to be self-injurious, stereotypical and aggressively destructive. Also, these people are known to have anxiety levels higher than the general population. Using information from previous tests, the team of researchers believe that this therapy might be beneficial to patients with these aggressive behaviors, claiming the relaxing quality of music would reduce these chaotic behaviors in the patients. Using low frequency sound vibrations, most sound therapy sessions consist of the patient lying on a bed or chair with built-in speakers, allowing the individual to listen and physically feel the sounds from the device. Researchers from the Center for Rehabilitation Research plan to construct an experiment that systematically investigate the proposed effects of vibroacoustic therapy on patients with developmental disorders and challenging behaviors.


  Selecting 20 subjects with autism spectrum disorders and developmental disabilities, conditions known to be behaviorally aggressive, the experimenter randomized the individuals into two groups. For five weeks, the first group received daily music treatment that consisted of ten through twenty minute vibroacoustic therapy sessions. Then the second group underwent a similar procedure for the next five weeks. The observers recorded each participant’s progress using the Behavior Problems Inventory before the treatment, after the treatment, and once again after a period of time. Using videotapes as a form of qualitative data, the researchers used tapes to analyze the effects of the sessions minute by minute, focusing mainly on the specific behavior problems and their frequency during the experiment. The results of the study concluded that “vibroacoustic music reduced challenging behavior in individuals with ASD and developmental disability”.


  Evaluations from BPI ratings, behavior observation analyses, and assistants’ ratings all showed that common traits of the disorder decreases after the subjects partook in the therapy. This findings of this study are consistent with the claim that music combined with vibrations has a relaxing effect that relieves anxiety and discomfort. Although the reason to effects of vibroacoustic music to patients with challenging behavior is unknown, researchers from the Center for Rehabilitation Research and the Center for Adult Habilitation agree that the process is an effective procedure in reducing disruptive and negative actions. This study did carry lurking variables which limited the reliability of the results. The main issue revolved around the subjects participating in the study.


  The groups consisted of patients with various challenging behaviors, thus creating uncertainty in the relationship between vibroacoustic therapy and the frequency of the aggressive behaviors. Observers suggested that homogenous group, such as patients diagnosed with only autism or a specific kind of disruptive behavior, would have provided data with less unknown variables. Also, the variety of behaviors from the subjects makes generalization very difficult because the experiment focus one individuals with challenging behaviors and mental disorders. Regardless of the limitations, the results of the study proved to have significant evidence that vibroacoustic music is an effect treatment for individuals with challenging behaviors. With further studies, scientists will be able to determine if this therapy is a potential replacement for psychopharmacologic drugs, a current treatment that is known to carry unavoidable mental side-effects to some patients, and reduce the need for this medical treatment.

 One study noticed that elderly people living in nursing homes had a higher frequency of obtaining chronic depression than community-living elderly, the “rate was about three to five times more”.  Statistics showed high correlation between depression and death for individuals living in nursing, thus raising concerns and demands for a solution to this issue. Researchers conducted an experiment to investigate whether vibroacoustic therapy would reduce the rate of chronic depression on elderly in nursing homes. Fifteen elderly residents with average of 86 were selected to participate in the study. Each subject showed psychological symptoms of depression. “For two consecutive weeks, the participants received 30-minutes vibroacoustic therapy sessions Monday to Friday”. Classical music accompanied with low vibrations were produced in mattress-like devices. For each patient, researchers recorded his or her psychological state before the and after the treatment.


  After the experiment, researchers saw a significant psychological improvement in the subjects. Each elderly had a reduction of depression and an increase in night time sleep efficiency. Results showed that the sessions reduced the heart rate of the nursing home residents, and that the therapy induced parasympathetic system effects, a bodily process that occurs during periods of relaxation. An estimated eighty percent of depressed individuals claim to have abnormal changes in sleep patterns. Two common sleep disorders for depression are insomnia and hypersomnia. During the study, researchers saw that the total sleep duration of the participants significantly decreased after the vibroacoustic session, but the nighttime sleep efficiency was unaffected. Consequently, subjects were more prone to having consistent wake times after the therapy.


  These results suggest that a reduction in depression increases the wake time in the daytime. The study concluded that vibroacoustic therapy reduced depression and increased relaxation in elderly living in nursing homes. If future experiments show similar results, it would be beneficial for nursing homes to integrate vibracoustic facilities in their community. This will allow patients suffering from psychological disorders to receive effective assistance and possibly reduce the rate of depression-related deaths in nursery homes.


  Vibroacoustic sound therapy has proven to have significant results benefitting human health both physiologically and mentally. The low vibrations increase cellular movement, thus increasing energy and cellular regeneration in the body. Consequently, inflammation and pain are reduced because of this treatment. With the addition of music, patients are able to prone to have an increase in relaxation and decrease in psychological disturbances such as depression, anxiety, and nausea. Furthermore, individuals with behavioral impulses and autism are found have decrease in aggressive outburst and actions. If these results are consistent in future studies, vibroacoustic therapy can replace pharmaceuticals and eliminate the potential side-effects that arise from usage.


  Although there is potential in this treatment, there are backlashes that prevent this therapy to be an approach. Vibroacoustic therapy lacks the multitude of studies and experimental results to confirm it is an effective approach for individuals’ health. Also, the specific group sample makes it difficult to generalize the results to other patients or non-patients. Nevertheless, this is an innovative approach that combines vibration and music to tend to human health. Not only should this therapy be integrated in medicine, but it should be accessible to anyone experiencing physical or psychological distress.


Works Cited

Yoshihisa, Koike, Hoshitani Mitsuyo, Tabata Yukie, Seki Kazuhiko, Nishimura Reiko, and Kano Yoshio. 2012. “Effects of Vibroacoustic Therapy on Elderly Nursing Home Residents with Depression.” Journal Of Physical Therapy Science 24, no. 3: 291-294 4p. CINAHL Complete, EBSCOhost (accessed December 6, 2015).

Punkanen, Marko, and Esa Ala-Ruona. 2012. Contemporary Vibroacoustic Therapy: Perspectives on Clinical Practice, Research, and Training. Music & Medicine 4 (3): 128-35.

Reid, Annaliese, and John Staurt. “Ancient Sound Healing.” Token Rock. Accessed December 6, 2015.

Lundqvist, Lars-Olov, Gunilla Andersson, and Jane Viding. 2009. Effects of Vibroacoustic Music on Challenging Behaviors in Individuals with Autism and Developmental Disabilities. Research in Autism Spectrum Disorders 3 (2): 390-400.

Boyd-Brewer, Chris, and Ruth McCaffrey. 2004. Vibroacoustic Sound Therapy Improves Pain Management and More. Holistic Nursing Practice 18 (3): 111-8.

Ellis, Phil. 2004. Improving Quality of Life and Well-Being for Children and the Elderly Through Vibroacoustic Sound Therapy. Lecture Notes in Computer Science (Including Subseries Lecture Notes in Artificial Intelligence and Lecture Notes in Bioinformatics)3118 : 416-22.

Boyd-Brewer, Chris. 2003. Vibroacoustic Therapy: Sound Vibrations in Medicine. Alternative and Complementary Therapies 9 (5): 257-63.

Patrick, G. 1999. The Effects of Vibroacoustic Music on Symptom Reduction. IEEE Engineering in Medicine and Biology Magazine 18 (2): 97-100.

Kvam, Marit Hoem. 1997. The Effect of Vibroacoustic Therapy. Physiotherapy 83 (6): 290-5.

Ortiz, John M. The Tao of Music: Sound Psychology : Using Music to Change Your Life. York Beach, Me.: S. Weiser, 1997.

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