A Different Approach to Fibromyalgia
“The effects of not getting good blood flow to your brain, joints and muscles?…. Fibromyalgia” – Vital Motion
Erik Hiester D.O., is not your ordinary doctor. He’s an interesting blend of engineer and doctor. Hiester’s first love was biomedical engineering (B.S. and M.S.). Wanting more contact with patients, he became a Doctor of Osteopathic Medicine. After encountering so many people in pain during his family practice residency, he took another left turn and became probably the first biomedical engineer and family practice physician to receive a fellowship in interventional pain medicine at Emory.
Then he put it all together to help produce a machine he believes could help people with fibromyalgia and others with pain, fatigue and other symptoms. The machine resulted from a bit of the serendipity which leavens so much of science. One of Hiester’s neighbors, a bioengineer, had developed a device which increases the circulation in the body. He planned to use it for osteoporosis but Hiester, overwhelmed with the many FM patients he was seeing, saw an opportunity in fibromyalgia.
After a trial produced good results the team was expanded, the Vital Motion company was borne, the device was improved, patents were registered, and the FDA approved it as a Class I Medical Device. Last year, Vital Motion’s Hummingbird Machine won a Production Innovation Award from Frost and Sullivan.
The Exercise Conundrum in Fibromyalgia and ME/CFS
Exercise is important for cardiovascular health, cognition, mood and pain relief but how to get the benefits of exercise without getting hammered has been one of the great questions for many people with FM, ME/CFS and allied disorders. When even mild activity can bring pain, how to get the blood flowing without producing a symptom flare?
Vital Motion may have found a way. Their Hummingbird machine triggers a reflex that gets the blood flowing in the lower and perhaps even the upper body – while you’re sitting down. It presents the possibility of getting some of the benefits of exercising while not actually exercising.
Instead of pounding away to get one’s blood flowing during what, to be honest, is going to be a very limited walk anyway (and is likely going to leave one in pain), Vital Motion’s Hummingbird device purports to gets the blood and fluids in your body moving without your ever leaving your chair.
Activating “The Second Heart”
The device – which one plugs in and then steps on with the front of your foot – produces a vibration detected by sensors on the front of foot called Meissner’s Corpuscles. This in turn activates something called the postural reflex arc at the front of the foot.
That reflex then stimulates the soleus muscle in the calf which plays an important enough role in our circulation as to sometimes be called “the second heart”. Activation of that soleus muscle returns pooled blood and interstitial fluid back into the circulatory system, increasing blood flow to the body and hopefully reducing symptoms.
Plantar stimulation may sound like science fiction, but the medical literature suggests it may work. Back in 2005, plantar stimulation was shown to increase both peripheral and system circulation. Calf muscle pump stimulation substantially improved sleep in one small study. It reversed the resting tachycardia that eleven women experienced after 20 minutes of sitting. It’s been shown to increase blood flows in the legs, and it reversed the blood pooling in the legs of almost 50% of women in one study.
The Hummingbird is somewhat similar to the Avacen 100 device developed for fibromyalgia which uses microprocessors and heat to enhance microcirculation of the hands and hopefully the rest of the body. Both machines attempt to improve the circulation, increase oxygen delivery, reduce sympathetic nervous system activation and relieve pain.
“Without a specific therapeutic agent for disorders like fibromyalgia, this device offers a reasonable way to improve a patient’s daily life,” Dr. Charles Lapp, creator of the Hunter Hopkins Center in North Carolina.
One small, unblinded fibromyalgia study in 2014 using an older, prototype device involved 23 patients with moderate FM. Thirteen dropped out (six because of increased pain, four because of time concerns; others for a variety of reasons). The increase in pain appeared to occur in sicker FM patients who couldn’t tolerate the vibration of the older, more primitive device. (The new device uses a smartphone app which allows one to control the amount of vibration present.)
For sicker patients, Dr. Hiester starts lower and goes slower. I’ve communicated with a couple of people who have negative results – one whom had VERY negative results. I suggest that everyone not use the default setting but start quite a bit lower, try it out for only a few minutes at first, and only then, if everything is OK, slowly increase the setting. The physical sensation I had is of a low/medium vibration on the bottom of my feet.
Dr. Hiester reports that the adverse events that occur early usually resolve themselves as the body gets adjusted to new circulation.
The results suggested that some of the dropouts may have really missed something. Over 12 weeks, the ten participants reported a 33% improvement in symptoms – equal to moving them from the moderate case of FM to a mild case – plus a patient reported outcome study showed an almost 60% increase in activity.
A statistical analysis suggested that longer may be better with the Hummingbird. The more a person used the device, the better they did. Given that some people in the study only used it five minutes a day, the results were encouraging, indeed. (A minimum of 15 minutes twice a day is suggested and 30 minutes twice a day is probably optimal.) If you get the device, give it some time; it may take up to 6 weeks before you see benefits.
Hiester reported that his own anecdotal experience suggests that up to 75 – 80 % of FM patients are getting relief. As some people use it for hours a day without negative effects, the potential for side effects – except for the very hypersensitive – appears to be low.
Interestingly, the study also found the FM patients exhibited low diastolic blood pressure while sitting – a sign of reduced blood flow to the tissues. (Anecdotal reports suggest that lower blood pressure may be common in ME/CFS as well. ) The fact that the low blood pressure levels were positively correlated with symptoms suggested that the Hummingbird’s ability to induce small elevations in blood pressure may be helping.
Cindy Leyland, an editor at Prohealth and person with fibromyalgia reported on her experience with the Hummingbird. It was not a cure – it’s not supposed to be – but it did help.
The results are truly quite amazing. I still have insomnia, fatigue and pain. But I find my overall wellness improved, with less life interruption because of pain and fatigue, and I credit the Hummingbird with some of that improvement. I will continue my flight with this Bird.
POTS / ME/CFS / Dysautonomia and Others
The Hummingbird was developed for use in fibromyalgia but it’s hard to believe that if it works, it wouldn’t also help out in chronic fatigue syndrome (ME/CFS), postural orthostatic tachycardia syndrome (POTS) and other allied diseases. The evidence rests on the notion that problems with the circulation in the lower body are impeding blood flows back to the heart, brain and tissues.
From the Vital Motion Website
That problem – which is called reduced preload – is precisely what Dr. David Systrom found in a large study of people with idiopathic exercise intolerance. This group, which includes people with ME/CFS, FM, POTS and others who have difficulty exercising but have no detectable heart issues, have been a mystery. Systrom’s invasive exercise tests suggest that circulatory problems that prevent sufficient venous return of blood to the heart are one cause.
The insufficient venous return results in blood pooling in the lower body which then causes in a reduction of blood flows to the heart, brain and muscles – potentially accounting for some of the problems with exercise, gut issues and cognition found in these diseases.
Vital Motion is primarily marketing the Hummingbird to FM patients, but if it works in FM, it’s hard to believe that it will not be helpful for people with ME/CFS/POTS. (Those with other circulatory problems such as diabetes, peripheral neuropathy and the elderly might conceivably benefit as well.) The University of Tennessee is assessing the Hummingbird’s effectiveness in chronic pain patients.
I wondered about the bedbound. Getting the blood flowing better seems like a great idea for the bedbound. I asked Dr. Hiester if the Hummingbird could provide enough of a boost to help people to move more without relapsing. No studies have been done but Hiester thought it might be possible.
Compare the potential cost-effectiveness of devices like this, which, if they work, require only one-time purchase (not covered by insurance) with drugs and their never-ending costs.
The device is not a cure but used consistently it appears to have the potential to ameliorate the symptoms in FM/ME/CFS, POTS, etc. while the search for the cure goes on.
Note that if you have uncontrolled blood pressure (UBT) or deep vein thrombosis, this machine, since it can elevate blood pressure a bit, is not for you. If, on the other hand, if you have FM and/or related diseases, particularly if you experience dizziness or low blood pressure, the Hummingbird might be worth trying.
Getting the Hummingbird
The Hummingbird sells for $395 (or $495 with a package which includes a Fitbit 2). It comes with a risk-free guarantee. Pay for it now and if it doesn’t produce results over the next 45 days, return the device and get your money back with no restocking fee.
Find our more about purchasing it here.I f you have questions they have a chat feature and a phone number ( (888) 885-6686.
If you use this coupon code – HealthRising – you can get $25 off.
The Vital Motion website states that 75% of those buying the device have kept it.
I haven’t tried the Hummingbird yet but both I, with my ME/CFS/FM/MCS, and my partner, with her ME/CFS and POTS, are going to try it. The Hummingbird and Dr. Heister were introduced to me by Nancy McGrory Richardson, a long-time ME/CFS supporter, whom I trust and have known for years.
Health Rising is not affiliated with Vital Motion and does not receive benefits from the sale of the device.
Enhancing Blood Volume
Enhancing blood volume is another way to increase blood circulation in these diseases. Find out ways to do that in Enhancing Blood Volume for Chronic Fatigue Syndrome (ME/CFS), POTS and Orthostatic Intolerance found in Health Rising’s resource section.
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