Can vibration training help my osteoporosis?

Jane mugshot for JQAI 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
  • epi­lepsy
  • ret­inal eye prob­lems such as mac­u­lar degen­er­a­tion
  • back prob­lems such as her­nia or spon­dyl­osis
  • arti­fi­cial hips.

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