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Vibration May Improve Bone Health in Older Adults


Older adults and their bone health could benefit from a little shaking up, according to a new study. Medical College of Georgia researchers report that treating the entire body with vibration may help reduce bone loss that occurs as people age.

A daily dose of vibration could be good for your bones

The impetus for using vibration to prevent bone loss came from NASA, when back in 2001 the organization’s scientists began testing the use of vibrating platforms to help prevent bone loss associated with weightlessness and space travel. Their work was of great interest to scientists concerned with more earthly reasons for bone loss.

In the new study at Medical College of Georgia, the researchers used vibration therapy daily for 12 weeks during 30 minute sessions in male mice that had an equivalent age of 55 to 65 years in humans. The researchers found that vibration improved bone density around the hip joint with indications of higher density in the femur as well.

Vibration also was associated with a reduction in a biomarker that indicates bone breakdown as well as an improvement in the surface area involved in the formation of bone. These latest findings add more support to previous research showing a benefit for bone health through use of vibration.

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Numerous previous studies have examined the benefits of vibration on bone density and preventing bone loss in older adults. In 2004, a study published in Osteoporosis International reported that elderly women who used the platform in a nursing home environment preferred this approach to taking supplements for their bone health.

In a 2008 study, 116 postmenopausal women who had osteoporosis received either vibration therapy on a platform five days a week for 10 minutes per session for six months, or no treatment. The study found a significant improvement in bone mineral density and a reduction in back pain among the treated women compared with those who were not treated.

Dr. Karl H. Wenger, a biomedical engineer in the Medical College of Georgia Schools of Graduate Studies and Medicine, and his team theorize that vibration prompts movement of the cell nucleus, which in turn causes the release of substances that trigger osteoblasts, cells that produce bone.

Vibration is proving useful in other areas of bone health, especially in people who have fractures. Wenger notes that studies show vibration slows stem cell proliferation, which leads to more stem cells becoming bone cells rather than continuing on to make more stem cells. Other studies have shown that vibration can also improve weight loss and muscle strength.

Exactly how the finding that vibration can improve bone health in older adults will be translated into actions individuals can take is not yet clear. Results of a currently ongoing randomized, double-blind controlled trial called VIBES (Vibration to Improve Bone Density in Elderly Subjects) may provide some insight as well in the near future.

Hannan MT et al. Osteoporosis International 2004; 15:918-26
Kiel DP et al. Clinical Trials 2010; 7(4): 354-67
Medical College of Georgia
Ruan XY et al. Chinese Medicine Journal 2008 Jul 5; 121(13): 1155-58