Therapy using a “vibration chair” – popularized in the 19th century – has been found to significantly improve symptoms of Parkinson's disease, but the benefits may be due to the “placebo effect” and other factors and not the vibration itself, new research has found.
Neurologist Jean-Martin Charcot developed the therapy more than 100 years ago to treat Parkinson's. Although he claimed improvements in his patients, a complete evaluation of the therapy was never conducted.
But a group of neurological researchers at Rush University Medical Center who replicated his work to see if it could hold up to modern scientific testing has found both good and bad news for “vibration chair” proponents.
"We attempted to mimic Charcot's protocol with modern equipment in order to confirm or refute an historical observation," said lead investigator Dr. Christopher G. Goetz, director of the Parkinson's disease and Movement Disorders Center at Rush. "Both the treated group and the control group improved similarly, suggesting other factors had an effect on Parkinson's disease motor function."
Researchers noted Charcot developed his treatment after patients told him that long carriage rides or train journeys seemed to alleviate the painful symptoms of Parkinson's disease.
To test the therapy, Goetz and his colleagues tracked the experiences of 23 Parkinson’s patients who were either assigned to sit in a vibrating chair or the same chair without vibration.
Researchers found the patients in the vibration chair showed significant improvement in motor function after daily 30-minute treatments for four weeks. Motor function also improved significantly in the patients who sat in the non-vibrating chair. Both groups also showed similar and significant improvement in depression, anxiety, fatigue, and nighttime sleep.
The findings were published in the Journal of Parkinson's Disease.