Vibration can help reduce some types of pain, including pain from fibromyalgia, by more than 40 percent, according to a new study published online in the European Journal of Pain.

When high-frequency vibrations from an instrument were applied to painful areas, pain signals may have been prevented from traveling to the central nervous system, explains Roland Staud, MD, professor of rheumatology and clinical immunology in the University of Florida College of Medicine in Gainesville.

Dr. Staud explains that if you think of a pain impulse having to travel through a gate to cause discomfort, the vibrations are closing that gate. “When the gate is open, you feel the pain from the stimulus. It goes to the spinal cord. When you apply vibration you close the gate partially.” You can still feel some pain, but less than you would have felt without the vibrations, he adds.

For this study, participants were split into three groups: 29 had fibromyalgia, 19 had chronic neck and back pain and 28 didn’t have any pain at all. Dr. Staud and his research team applied about five seconds of heat to introduce pain to each participant’s arms and followed that with five seconds of vibrations from an electric instrument that emits high-frequency vibrations that are absorbed by skin and deep tissue.

"A biothesiometer is an electric vibrator with a plastic foot plate that can be brought into contact with the patient’s skin,” Dr. Staud explains. “While the frequency is always set at 100 Hz, the intensity of the vibration can be adjusted.”

Following the use of heat and vibration, researchers led by Dr. Staud asked patients to rate the intensity of their pain on a 0-to-10 scale and found that the experimental pain, as opposed to their chronic pain, was reduced by more than 40 percent with the use of vibration. Dr. Staud says what’s particularly interesting is that the patients in the study with fibromyalgia appeared to have the same mechanisms in their body to block or inhibit pain through the use of vibration as those in the pain-free group.

“Fibromyalgia patients are often said to have insufficient pain mechanisms, which means they can’t regulate their pain as well as regular individuals. This study showed that in comparison to normal controls, they could control their pain as well,” Dr. Staud explains.

Researchers discovered that the vibration provided more pain relief when it was applied to the same arm where the pain stimulus was placed. What they don’t know is how long the pain relieving effects will last. Paul Howard, MD, a rheumatologist and director of Arthritis Health in Scottsdale, Ariz., says that’s an important question. “How long does it last for? Ten minutes or 10 hours?” he asks.