You may have seen the vibration units in fancier health clubs. They look like a futuristic plate that you stand on while you work out. One of the original advertised uses of these vibration machines was that they were supposed to improve bone density in people with osteoporosis. However, a bevy of new studies has questioned whether vibration plate osteoporosis therapy is effective.
Osteoporosis is a disease where the density of bone decreases and becomes fragile enough so that a fall can cause a fracture. It’s a huge problem, especially in women as they age. There’s little doubt in the medical literature that weight bearing exercise can help strengthen bones. However, a number of years back companies began selling an easier route to better bone health-whole body vibration (WBV). The idea was that you would stand for a short time each day on a fancy plate that vibrated and this would increase your bone mass. The companies produced a few studies that seemed to show that this worked and a whole new industry of vibration plates costing thousands of dollars was launched. I remember wanting to get one of these as a work-out aide after seeing them in health clubs, but I was turned off by the high price for what seemed to be a very simple machine.
I ran across the first new study on WBV while looking for something else in the US National Library of Medicine. It used 22 elderly women with bone loss who underwent training on the vibration plate or without and then measured bone density via a highly sensitive type of CT scan. There was no difference in bone density in the vibration group. When I scanned this study, the negative result really caught my eye, so I decided to dig deeper, and regrettably for vibration plates, what I found didn’t help their cause.
The next study was with elderly men and women who were randomly assigned to the vibration plate or the ground and asked to perform squats three times a week for 11 weeks. This study also saw no difference in bone density from using the vibration plate. So it went with other studies as well. For example this study did show improvement in bone density, but there was no difference between strength training with the plate and that focused on balance without the plate.
The upshot? While fancy vibration plates may be great for getting a good or different work out and look swanky in your home gym, they don’t seem to do much for improving bone mass over just working out alone. So if you’re buying one to help treat osteoporosis, save your money and spend it on a gym membership or set of hand weights instead!