Harvard Women's Health Watch

Update on vibration therapy for bone health.

Update on vibration therapy for bone health

Can gentle vibration improve bone density and prevent fractures after menopause?

Soon you may be hearing a lot about low-intensity vibration therapy for strengthening bones and reducing the risk of fractures. Two low-intensity oscillating devices designed for home use are coming onto the market, and the Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality (AHRQ), which advises the federal government on health care matters, is expected to issue a report highlighting the evidence as well as the many unanswered questions about this unique approach to bone health.

These low-intensity vibration devices gently stimulate muscle and bone when you stand on them. They are not to be confused with high-intensity, whole-body vibration machines or plates, which are used mainly for exercise training but are sometimes promoted for bone-building. Low-intensity devices provide a tiny fraction of the vibration exposure you would get from the high-intensity machines used by athletes.

An unmet need

Our bones are in constant flux, as old bone is resorbed (broken down) and new bone is created. If breakdown outpaces creation, you may develop low bone density and eventually osteoporosis. Many medications are used in the prevention and treatment of osteoporosis, but only one * teriparatide (Forteo) * stimulates bone growth. (Other medications, including bisphosphonates, work by reducing bone resorption.)

Instead of taking a drug to encourage new bone formation, most women are advised to mechanically stimulate their bones through physical activity, particularly weight-bearing and resistance exercise. When stress is placed on the bones through activities such as running, jumping, and weight lifting, bone cells called osteocytes send signals that activate two other types of bone cells: osteoclasts, which remove damaged areas, and osteoblasts, which form new bone, eventually making the bones denser and stronger. …

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