One of our newest health technology assessments examines the use of whole body vibration (WBV) as a way to stimulate bone growth in postmenopausal women. Following menopause, women are at increased risk for reduced bone density and osteoporosis, a condition in which the bones weaken and can break easily. According to the National Osteoporosis Foundation, approximately 50% of all women and 25% of men ages 50 years or older will break a bone due to osteoporosis. In the United States, almost 10 million people already have osteoporosis; of these, nearly 80% are women.
Eating a healthy diet, exercising, and making wise lifestyle choices, such as not smoking, are some ways that people can protect their bones throughout their lifetime. Resistance and aerobic exercise are often recommended to alleviate age-related muscular and bone deterioration. Certain medications that act on bone resorption or bone formation, such as calcium, vitamin D, hormone therapy, and bisphosphonates, to name a few, may also be prescribed to treat osteoporosis. Unfortunately, exercise and medications are not appropriate for all patients. People who experience joint pain, spinal cord injuries, and heart failure may be unable to exercise, and medications might have undesirable side effects.
WBV, a procedure in which the patient stands on a vibrating platform, has been used as an alternative procedure to promote bone growth. WBV has been endorsed by some clinicians because it is easy to use and may increase adherence to treatment, especially in patients who are not candidates for other treatments. However, concern has been expressed regarding the safety of WBV and the potential for adverse side effects (e.g., low back pain), especially in older adults.
In our investigation of WBV, we examined these relevant questions:
- Does WBV prevent bone loss in postmenopausal women?
- Does WBV promote bone growth in postmenopausal women diagnosed with osteoporosis?
- How does the efficacy of WBV compare with other treatments that promote bone growth?
- Is WBV a safe procedure for the prevention of bone loss?
- Have definitive patient selection criteria been established for the use of WBV for the prevention of bone loss?
We found several randomized controlled trials (RCTs) that evaluated the effects of WBV on postmenopausal patients without osteoporosis. However, only two studies examined WBV in postmenopausal women diagnosed with osteoporosis. None of the studies compared WBV with treatments known to promote bone growth. Overall, WBV was safe and no serious complications or injuries were reported.
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