“We’re hoping to find an alternative to pharmaceutical therapies for those with neuropathic pain caused by diabetes,” says Ruben Guzman, a master’s student in exercise and sport science. “Whole body vibration has proven successful in relieving pain for those with fibromyalgia and chronic back pain so we’re hypothesizing that the same will hold true for those with neuropathy due to diabetes.”
Whole body vibration typically involves performing a series of exercises on vibrating platforms – which look a bit like large home scales with upraised handles – designed to improve strength, flexibility and balance.
Ruben explains that though the specific mechanism of pain alleviation is unknown, it has been reported that the vibration can block pain and improve circulation, which may in fact lead to healthier nerves. “It would be a breakthrough to have a non-invasive, non-pharmaceutical approach to pain management and avoid drugs with side effects like weight gain, balance disturbance, and depression, which are already problematic for diabetics” he says.
The 26-week study will determine if exposure to the whole body vibration exercise regime is well-tolerated in adults with diabetic neuropathic pain of the feet and if it reduces common symptoms and complications from the disease. Diabetic neuropathy often leads to progressive loss of sensation and lower-limb muscle atrophy, which alters walking. Sensation of the feet and walking will also be evaluated for changes over the duration of the study.
Five OSU undergraduates are learning about the research process first hand as they work on the study. “I’ve learned that timelines don’t always go according to plan,” says Ryan Haran who will be applying to medical school after he graduates next month. “I’ve done basic research before and wanted to participate in a human subject-based research project in my field of exercise and sport science.” Kathryn Collins, an undergraduate in pre-therapy and allied health says that “Being involved in this study sparked my interest to do research later on.” Ben Jelinek, a junior with plans to go to physical therapy school says “The research process is much more complicated that I thought. I gained a lot of appreciation for the process of study approval and recruitment of subjects.”
Gianni Maddalozzo, who has been researching the emerging field of vibration therapy for several years, is the principal investigator on the research project funded by the John C. Erkkila MD Endowment for Health and Human Performance.
“We are strongly encouraged by our preliminary data that has suggested significant reductions in foot pain as measured by the Universal Pain Survey,” Maddalozzo said. “Participants may see a significant reduction in pain of their feet and this may lead to further education on the prescription medications these individuals currently take for their pain.”
Co-investigators Mark Hoffman, Brad Cardinal and Kerri Winters-Stone are joined by a team of undergraduate researchers Kathryn Collins, Ryan Haran, Ben Jelinek, Rita Krantz and Walker Maddalozzo that are lead by Ruben.
Ruben is a cancer survivor and a disabled veteran who says his military training prepared him well for the rigors of research. “You have to be meticulous, consistent, on time, and give your total focus to what you are doing.” He’s a good model for his students as he teaches them about data collection, gait analysis, how to measure nerve conduction, and other research processes. After earning his PhD in exercise science, Ruben plans to do research and teach at a university, focusing on those with special needs.