Weighted vests apply deep pressure to calm the nervous system. They also provide trunk stability. General guidelines exist regarding the amount of weight to use and the length of time to wear the vest; however, there's no specific occupational therapy weighted vest protocol.
The vests are used for children who have sensory-processing disorders, such as autism and attention-deficit disorder, and movement disorders, such as ataxia, Parkinson's disease, dystonia and ataxic cerebral palsy. Weighted vests for adults can also be used for these conditions.
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Weighted Vest for Sensory Issues
In addition to the use of weighted vests for sensory issues, these vests are also used for stress reduction in individuals with anxiety or Tourette's syndrome. Deep pressure has a calming effect on individuals with sensory-processing disorders.
The inability to properly process sensory information makes performing routine daily activities and learning difficult, because the lack of response or the exaggerated response to sensory stimuli causes these individuals to become easily distracted, agitated and/or less attentive.
The deep pressure works on the central nervous system and aids in the processing of sensory information so that individuals with sensory-processing disorders can perform routine tasks in an organized, attentive and calm manner.
Trunk Stability and Balance
External trunk stability is important in people with movement disorders. The placement of the weight in the weighted vests helps achieve the necessary trunk stability. Placement of the weight on the shoulder girdle provides greater trunk stability and greater spinal support and creates deep pressure around the chest and upper back.
A small study that was published in 2017 by the Journal of Exercise Rehabilitation demonstrated that use of a weighted vest was beneficial for balance training of 10 participants with paraplegia.
How Weighted Vests Work
Weighted vests are designed to be worn over regular clothing, and some are designed to look like normal clothing. The weights are not visible from the outside of the vest.
Weighted vests apply deep, constant pressure, which provides a calming effect on the central nervous system, resulting in more purposeful movements, increased attention and decreased agitation. This allows those wearing the vests to be more organized in their movements and show greater attention to tasks.
According to a study published in the March/April 2014 issue of the American Journal of Occupational Therapy, use of a weighted vest was shown to significantly improve attention to task in children with ADHD when compared with a non-vest-wearing control group.
Read more: How to Wear a Weight Vest All Day
General Weighted Vest Recommendations
At the time of publication, only general guidelines exist regarding weighted vests. The length of time and the amount of weight to place inside the vests are the two general guidelines. Practitioners generally recommend that a weight vest be worn no longer than one hour at time and that the weight be no more than five to 10 percent of a person's total body weight, according to National Autism Resources.
These recommendations are guidelines; however, they can and should vary from individual to individual. Improper use of sensory weighted vests can lead to overstimulation and/or injury.
- Journal of Exercise Rehabilitation: "Study of Gait Using Weighted Vests on Balance With Paraplegic Patients"
- American Journal of Occupational Therapy: "Effects of Weighted Vests on Attention, Impulse Control, and On-Task Behavior in Children With Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder"
- National Autism Resources: "Weighted Vest FAQs"
- 35th Annual International Conference of the IEEE EMBS: "In-Home Measurement of the Effect of Strategically Weighted Vests on Ambulation"
- The University of Cambridge School of Clinical Medicine: Plasticity and Recovery From Nervous System Damage