Vibroacoustic Therapy Relieves Pain Using Music & “Good Vibrations”
Music has been used to soothe the soul for centuries. Now it can also physically soothe the body. Vibroacoustic Therapy combines the vibrations of music with pulsed low frequency tones to produce what one of the developers of the technique called an “internal massage.” Only with this “massage” all you have to do is lie back and listen to music. You can even keep your clothes on.
Client Susan Blackburn of Fayetteville calls the therapy miraculous. “I had muscle spasms across my back off and on for probably 20 years. From the first treatment I went five days without pain. The next time I went the whole seven days without pain.” Now she sees Vibroacoustic Therapist Ed Laningham at White Lotus Salon & Massage in Fayetteville once every five weeks for treatment.
In Vibroacoustic Therapy (VAT) recorded music is played through an amplifier and transmitted to the body through a special bed or chair with speakers underneath the surface. The combination of hearing soothing music and feeling the vibrations, Laningham says, can produce a state of deep relaxation. Laningham has been using the technique since 1998.
Before VAT, Blackburn says she’d tried everything: medication, behavior modification therapy, massage and other treatments. But nothing worked. She was coming to Massage Therapist and White Lotus owner Patty Kulish for massage and said that helped, but didn’t take the pain away completely. Kulish suggested she try VAT.
“It’s just been amazing,” Blackburn says. “Every once in a while I will have an acute attack. But the muscle memory just beat it. If I do something or something caused me to have a muscle spasm, it will last one day, and then it goes away. It’s just miraculous.”
In the early days of her treatment, Blackburn says her pain started in the thoracic area. After a few treatments, that pain went away and moved into her shoulder. “We changed the frequency (of the pulsed sine wave),” Laningham says, “and found a pitch that cleaned that muscle group.”
Then, Blackburn says, her shoulder pain went away and has stayed away.
Laningham says he first learned about VAT in the 80s while he was getting his undergraduate degree in education and music at the University of Arkansas in Fayetteville. “Part of my practicum in student teaching was working with special needs children, especially autistic children. I saw this profound difference music had on autistic children and thought surely someone else had seen this.”
Norwegian Olav Skille, called the father of VAT, was also working with developmentally delayed children with music by putting a beanbag chair on top of a loud speaker. “I have a big keyboard amp,” Laningham says, “so I started doing the same thing with kids, or using a pillow with a speaker they could lay on. I was following the research of Professor Skille.”
In the late 90s he started using his keyboard amp, playing live, putting it under a regular massage table and turning it up. Now there are specially designed tables, using an aged piece of red oak, much like piano soundboards, transducers instead of speakers and special foam. The transducers are imbedded in the soundboard and designed to put sound directly into matter, instead of the air like speakers. The foam doesn’t absorb sound like regular foam would, so the maximum sound enters the body. Different frequencies produce different results. Low-end frequencies work on large muscle groups; high-range frequencies impact small tissues.
Most of Laningham’s patients are elderly, many with Parkinson’s disease or arthritis. He says the technique helps joints and promotes circulation through the body. “It’s good for elderly people, since it has a lot of the benefits of massage, but they don’t have to disrobe, I think that’s a plus. It’s not invasive.”
Another benefit of VAT is that it provides relief without drugs. Many of Laningham’s patients are on a lot of medications for other conditions, but use VAT for pain management. That helps reduce drug interaction problems.
Laningham also has parents bringing kids because they don’t want their children on medication for conditions such as ADHD, autism, tick disorders and other behavioral disorders that deal with spasms, and even sports injuries.
“Part of being a good counselor is getting to know your patient, and finding music that meets their needs and mine,” Laningham says. “Music that will create the relaxation response.”
He uses a combination of original music he writes himself, pre-recorded music, and even live music. If someone is using a specific visualization, he may play his keyboard live to follow the patient’s visualization story.
“I continue to come because it’s beneficial in so many areas of my life,” Blackburn says. “Stress relieving; I cope with things better because of vibro. I look forward to coming. It’s just part of my life now, and I can’t imagine stopping.”