Vibration Therapy for Osteoporosis: Benefits and Risks

Over the course of a lifetime, approximately 33% of women and 20% of men will sustain a fracture because of osteoporosis. Because of the widespread prevalence of this condition and its potential to cause significant disability, many people seek out complementary treatments to be used alongside more traditional interventions. Vibration therapy is one potential example.

This article will explain how vibration therapy works and will discuss what the research says about its potential benefits and risks in people with osteoporosis.

Bones in knee

Peter Dazeley / Getty Images

Osteoporosis Defined

The bones in your body are in a constant state of flux, with new bone forming and old bone breaking down almost continuously. Osteoporosis, and its precursor osteopenia, is a condition in which bone breakdown outpaces new bone formation. When this occurs, your body’s bones become less dense overall and more likely to fracture.

Several different factors can play a role in osteoporosis. Postmenopausal females are at a higher risk of bone deterioration due to the drop in the body’s estrogen levels after menopause. Other risk factors include:

Testing for Osteoporosis

Osteoporosis is commonly called the “silent disease” due to its lack of outward symptoms. Because of this, it is important to have regular bone mineral density (DEXA) scans if you are more than 65 years old or have one or more of the risk factors mentioned above.

What Is Vibration Therapy?

Bones in your body react to stress by forming new bones to reinforce the area where the strain occurs. This happens because of specific bone-forming cells called osteoblasts. As a result of this unique quality, one of the hallmark ways to build bone density in an area is to perform weight-bearing exercises (like walking or stair-stepping) or resistance training near the osteoporotic bone.  

Vibration therapy tries to mimic the mechanical stresses associated with exercise and build up bone density in weaker areas.

To do this, a person stands on an oscillating platform while a machine generates vibrations that travel through the body at multiple different frequencies and intensities. The dynamic nature of these vibration signals helps replicate the types of forces that typically trigger osteoblasts to form new bone in an area.

Potential Benefits

The evidence supporting the use of vibration therapy for osteoporosis is still very mixed.

Initial studies of vibration on animals have shown that regular treatment led to increased bone density when compared to a control group. Vibration therapy also proved to slow excess bone loss when an animal was rendered immobile and unable to bear weight through the targeted bone.

The research in humans is more inconclusive, however. One review of the literature found improvements in the bone density of postmenopausal women who participated in regular vibration therapy sessions. Interestingly, these improvements were independent of the increased bone strength that can be attributed to prescription medications, which reinforces the potential complementary use of this intervention.

Unfortunately, other evidence reviews have called these benefits into question. Another summary of the literature found no overall benefit on bone density scores when vibration therapy was performed. The same paper did note, however, that people using the intervention saw increased strength and power in their quadriceps muscles afterward.

Risks and Contraindications

In most cases, vibration therapy is viewed as a low-risk treatment. That said, it is not without potential adverse effects. It is important to work with your healthcare provider to establish guidelines for the intensity of the vibration because settings that are too high may actually cause a weakened bone to fracture.

In addition, there is some evidence that prolonged exposure to vibration can cause harm to different tissues and organs in the body. Chronic vibrations have been linked to a wide variety of issues, including:

It is important to note, however, that most of these studies looked at vibration intensities that far surpass anything that would be used for the typical vibration therapy treatment.

Finally, in several unique situations, vibration therapy is considered to be potentially harmful and is contraindicated. These include:

Other Osteoporosis Treatments

Considering the low risk level and potential benefits associated with vibration therapy, it may be considered an advantageous treatment for certain individuals with osteoporosis. That said, it
is usually viewed as a complement to the more standard osteoporosis interventions that are typically prescribed. These include:

Summary

Vibration therapy is one potential complementary intervention for osteoporosis. This treatment creates vibrations that travel through the body and mimic the mechanical stresses that typically trigger bones to get stronger. Though the research on vibration therapy is still mixed, some evidence suggests that it can help improve bone density in postmenopausal women. Because of the relatively low risk involved, it may be a valuable adjunct to more traditional osteoporosis treatments. 

Frequently Asked Questions

  • What is vibration therapy?

    Vibration therapy is a complementary treatment for osteoporosis. It involves standing on a stationary platform while vibrations travel through your body. These oscillations are designed to subject your bones to mechanical forces and simulate cells called osteoblasts to form new and stronger bone in the area.

  • Is vibration therapy painful?

    Vibration therapy may cause a buzzing sensation as the high-speed oscillations travel through your body. That said, these forces should not
    be painful. However, it is important to work with your healthcare provider to establish acceptable vibration intensities. This is because too strong vibrations may cause osteoporotic bones to fracture and lead to pain.

  • Where do I go to get vibration therapy?

    Vibration therapy is typically offered at certain physical therapy, chiropractor, and holistic wellness clinics. Vibration platforms may also be purchased for home use at various locations online. Should you purchase your own unit, it is important to speak to your healthcare provider and verify that it is able to replicate the settings necessary to harness its benefits.

5 Sources
Verywell Health uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
  1. Sözen T, Özisik L, Basaran NC. An overview and management of osteoporosis. European Journal of Rheumatology.2017;4(1):46-56. doi: 10.5152/eurjrheum.2016.048

  2. Arthritis Foundation. Osteoporosis.

  3. Chan ME, Uzer G, Rubin CT. The potential benefits and inherent risks of vibration as a non-drug therapy for the prevention and treatment of osteoporosis. Current Osteoporosis Reports.2013;11(1):36-44. doi:10.1007/s11914-012-0132-1

  4. Dionello CF, Sá-Caputo D, Pereira HVFS, et al. Effects of whole body vibration exercises on bone mineraldensity of women with postmenopausal osteoporosis without medications: novel findings and literature review. Journal of Musculoskeletal and Neuronal Interactions. 2016;16(3):193-203.

  5. Luo X, Zhang J, Zhang C, He C, Wang P. The effect of whole-body vibration therapy on bone metabolism, motor function, and anthropometric parameters in women with postmenopausal osteoporosis. Disability and Rehabilitation. 2017;39(22):2315-2323. doi:10.1080/09638288.2016.1226417

By Tim Petrie, DPT, OCS
Tim Petrie, DPT, OCS, is a board-certified orthopedic specialist who has practiced as a physical therapist for more than a decade.