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Not to be confused with vibration belts that focus on weight loss, vibration plates are gaining traction as a therapeutic tool.

With the realization that astronauts were experiencing bone loss while in space for longer periods, scientists began to experiment with vibration therapy. Standing on an oscillating plate for at least 10 minutes a day resulted in bone loss regained.

These results have initiated numerous studies to find out if vibration therapy is a viable option for individuals with osteoporosis.

Vibration therapy enables muscles to contract and relax dozens of times per second through mechanical vibrations delivered by standing or lying on an oscillating platform.

Muscle contractions, due to their attachment to bone, inherently place stress (good stress) on the bone, forcing it to respond and grow.

History of vibration therapy

Vibration therapy has an extensive history dating back to ancient Greece.

In the 1800s, a type of vibration therapy was developed for Parkinson’s disease that inspired further study into the early 20th century. In has since been used in neurological studies, such as those involving cerebral palsy, and eventually for elite athletes and astronauts.

Types of vibration therapy

There are 2 main types of vibration therapy — whole body vibration (WBV) and low intensity vibration (LIV). Local muscle vibration (LMV) has also been used and studied.

WBV machines, like PowerPlate, are typically seen in gyms and fitness studios. These machines can create a range of intensity.

Intensity is measured by the amplitude (height) and speed (frequency) of the vibration.

LIV machines tend to look like bathroom scales and send tiny vibrations upward from the feet and up to the lower spine. The force you experience on these machines is less aggressive than what’s provided by WBV machines.

Research has concluded that vibration therapy offers numerous benefits, both in clinical and fitness settings. Some of the benefits include:

  • Prevents falls and improves balance in an aging population: A few studies show promising outcomes for improved balance and fall prevention, especially for mature adults.
  • May slow bone deterioration: While studies are inconclusive about bone density improving with vibration therapy, research does show a positive correlation between LIV and the slowing of bone loss.
  • Lowers cortisol levels: WBV sessions, both combined with resistance training and alone, have been shown to reduce levels of the stress hormone cortisol.
  • Increases aerobic capacity: Research has demonstrated elevated metabolic energy turnover and increased aerobic capacity as a result of vibration therapy.
  • Brings the body into balance: A 2020 study found that working out while utilizing low frequency WBV improved muscle imbalances.
  • Increases strength, power, flexibility: Research from 2018 suggests that LMV benefits muscle activation, strength, power, range of motion, and flexibility.
  • May increase fat loss: While the research is still evolving on this front, there appears to be a link between vibration therapy and fat reduction, especially when combined with other weight loss strategies.
  • May help relieve muscle soreness: Some research suggests that vibration therapy can reduce the effect of delayed onset muscle soreness (DOMS).
  • Improves pain and stiffness associated with arthritis: Research suggests that vibration therapy may have a positive impact on osteoarthritis.

According to research, vibration therapy has shown promising results in being effective for people who are injured, aging, or managing chronic conditions, who otherwise may not be able to participate in traditional exercises.

Research is ongoing, but studies have shown mixed results on the use of vibration therapy for osteoporosis. Whereas some research shows significant change for bone mineral density in mature persons, other research shows no change at all.

Fall prevention is especially important for those with osteoporosis. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), falls are the leading cause of death for those over age 65.

As mentioned previously, positive outcomes of vibration therapy have been noted for improving balance and preventing falls in older adults.

Researchers debate factors such as how progressed a diagnosis of osteoporosis is, the level of intensity, whether WBV or LIV is more suitable, and how long treatments should last.

The most promising and consistent results about vibration therapy for osteoporosis stem from LIV.

Still, most research concludes that vibration therapy will slow the progression of osteoporosis-related bone deterioration, even if it doesn’t improve bone mineral density.

Osteoporosis

Osteoporosis causes bones to weaken, making them fragile and brittle. This fragility can result in fractures with life altering — and even life threatening — outcomes.

Although osteoporosis primarily affects those over age 50, certain medications, lifestyle habits, or medical conditions can be precursors.

It’s important to start healthy bone building habits from a young age. Regular quality exercise, optimal nutrition, and meeting vitamin D needs are beneficial.

Risk factors for osteoporosis include:

Talking with your doctor is highly recommended before starting vibration therapy. Certain types of vibration therapy, the frequency used, and the amplitude of the vibrations should all be carefully considered when using vibration therapy for aging or brittle bones.

Most research supports LIV for osteoporosis meaning that vibration plates at the gym or studio are most likely too aggressive.

Therefore, it’s best to consult with your medical team and decide on a course of treatment that would likely take place under the watchful eye of a physical therapist.

Weight bearing exercise, adequate vitamin D, and a well-balanced diet are some factors that help maintain bone health. Vibration therapy has many benefits and may also help prevent the deterioration of bone, which is useful in the prevention of osteoporosis.

Vibration therapy may be a viable adjunct treatment option for those living with osteoporosis, especially in when it comes to maintaining balance, increasing muscle mass, and preventing falls. Still, the research is inconclusive regarding whether vibration therapy can increase bone density over time.

If you are curious about vibration treatment, talk with your medical care team. They can help you with assessing your unique health profile and the potential benefits of vibration therapy.