Vibration is a multi use input for therapists, families, individuals and teachers alike. Getting to know how this input is processed helps to guide the inclusion of this very useful addition to your routines.
While we may regularly see in advertisements the use of vibration to sooth muscle fatigue and the increased use of vibration therapy as a way to develop muscle strength, there are actually many other uses of vibration therapeutically in order to support the development of fine motor skills, oral motor skills, sensory processing and self regulation skills.
Oral Motor Skills
While for some people visual and auditory instructions or demonstration are sufficient for them to learn a new skill, for others touch or tactile input is a very important cue that is needed to support motor planning, body awareness or to provide the right physical cue as to the precise location a body part needs to be positioned in order to achieve success.
In an area such as the mouth where there are so many muscles and where there are a very high number of touch receptors, vibration provides a much more intense form of tactile input in order to support therapeutic and developmental goals. Vibration can be used for oral motor therapy in a very general way to “wake up” the muscles or in a very specific targeted way to stimulate one specific muscle group. You will need to choose the right tool for your specific purpose – from gentle but vigorous vibration using hands or a face washer; making vibration based sounds such as raspberries; through to much more targeted vibration using a tool like the Z-Vibe. These different options all allow a Speech Pathologist or an Occupational Therapist, or parent (under the guidance of a therapist) to provide input to a general or very specific muscle or group of muscles when working on oral motor or feeding therapy.
Similarly when addressing developmental hand skills vibration can become a very effective tool. The intrinsic muscles of the hand – that is the muscles that have their origin and their insertion point within the hand and so do not cross the wrist – are highly dependent upon tactile feedback in order to gain speed and control. This is why for many children with sensory processing difficulties, in particular those with reduced processing of tactile feedback, handwriting can be a challenge as the intrinsic muscles are not receiving the right “level” of tactile feedback to gain the control necessary. Using vibration within the hand can provide additional stimulation to support the activation of the intrinsic muscles to support this process. Again this might be general vibration such as rubbing the hands together or using a small vibrating massage tool to “wake up” the muscles through to a tool such as the Z-Vibe with the pencil or pen tips to allow for vibration of the intrinsic muscles during the active drawing or writing process.
Learning – drawing, handwriting and spelling
Adding vibration during drawing, writing and spelling also provides a multi-sensory way of developing skills. When we are tracing or writing letters or drawing pre-writing shapes, we are most predominantly depending upon the feedback provided through the eyes and the proprioceptors, that is those receptors that provide feedback about body or muscle/joint position. Adding vibration to this mix adds an additional pathway for learning through tactile processing. You could achieve this vibration by drawing or writing on paper placed over a textured surface such as sandpaper; drawing or writing directly onto textured surfaces such as corrugated cardboard or with chalk directly on rough concrete. You can also use vibrating pencils/pens, both those that provide much larger vibrations in more of a play based setting or those such as the Z-Vibe that are such high velocity vibrations that they don’t interfere with the quality of the writing.
One of my favourite uses of vibration is for self regulation and to support sensory processing. When trying to self regulate most of us will use tactile input much of the time, whether that is playing with something in or around our mouth, using the textural elements of food or fiddling with something in our hands. Vibration is a more intense method of providing this tactile sensation and so for those looking for greater intensity vibration is a great go to. You might like to try out vibrating oral motor options such as adding a chew tip to the end of the Z-Vibe pencil or trying vibrating chew options such as the Z-Grabber; hand held vibrating massagers; vibrating cushions to sit or stand on; vibrating head massagers or ticklers; or vibrating neck or body massagers. I personally use a vibrating platform to stand on every morning as part of my muscle relaxation and “wake up” routine and when working at a special developmental school we used one of these vibrating platforms to help increase body awareness prior to PE classes. Given that vibration is a higher level of tactile intensity than touch alone, many people also find it an easier focus point for mindfulness exercises, for example using a vibrating massage neck pillow or seat and using this as the point to focus the mind.
Sound and Movement Processing
What many people are unaware of is that vibration is also a way to stimulate the vestibular or movement system and that we can hear sound using vibration of the bones of the head. Movement and sound are both processed inside the inner ears through a liquid filled tube. Given that liquid responds to vibration we can stimulate the vestibular system and hear sound when vibration occurs on the bones around the ears. You may have seen this used in bone conduction headphones to allow people to “hear” the music without blocking the ears or in products where a bone conductor is used to either augment or replace air conduction as a way to hear sound such as the Dreampad pillows or the Aurras pad which you can place under your pillow to allow the person laying on the pillow to “hear” the sound without needing to wear headphones. Many children that I have worked with also seek out vibration as an alternative to needing to move for vestibular stimulation and for those highly sensitive to movement it can be a very gentle way to start the process of stimulating the vestibular system. As vestibular input can be very intense, particularly for a person who has a very sensitive nervous system this should only ever be self directed.
Give vibration a try to add the buzz to your therapy, learning or living experience.