I suffer from osteoporosis and read recently that vibrating exercise machines in my gym, such as Power Plate, could help to strengthen my bones. Do you think they are worth a try?
If you work out in a gym, this year you will probably have spotted a “vibration machine” or two standing alongside the banks of treadmills and cross-trainers. Vibration training is without doubt the “next big thing” in exercise trends, and it certainly has quite an effect on the human body.
A vibration machine workout involves a lot of standing still on a platform in different positions for short bursts of time, while the machine sends vibrating waves through your body. If you’ve ever operated a pneumatic drill or sat on a spin-drier to stop it jumping around, you’ll know the feeling.
The tehcnology originates from space research, and the commercial companies now pouring their machines into gyms make expansive claims for its benefits, from weight loss to jump power, strength gains to stress relief, including the claim that you can increase your bone density.
Osteoporosis is a very common condition, especially among older people, in which your bones become thinner and more brittle, and therefore much more vulnerable to fracture. Scientific studies have shown that vibration platform training can stimulate stronger bone development, and there is a lot of interest among osteoporosis researchers in this as a possible future treatment.
But I cannot offer you a green light yet. The best research results to date have come from sheep, not humans, and among the human trials there is not enough conclusive evidence yet to give vibration training the thumbs-up. In particular, no major studies have been done on people with osteoporosis – let alone those who have had an osteoporotic fracture – so we simply don’t know whether the vibrations work for people whose bones are already fragile, as opposed to people with normal or near-normal bone strength.
The biggest risk, of course, is that the shaking up effect ends up aggravating your condition by further weakening an already brittle area of bone (such as a vertebra in your spine). The gym machines are not very adjustable to be sensitive to specific needs – and anyway there is no scientific consensus about what levels of vibration should be recommended (nor how long you should spend on the machine).
You should also note that the commercial manufacturers list in the small print several conditions that are unsafe or unsuitable for vibration training. These include:
- any heart conditions
- severe diabetes
- retinal eye problems such as macular degeneration
- back problems such as hernia or spondylosis
- artificial hips.