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'VIBES' trial shows no benefit in bone vibration therapies for older people

OC5.1 (2013)

May 22, 2013, Lisbon, Portugal. Press Dispensary. A major study of older men and women living around Boston, Massachusetts – the 'VIBES' trial – has taken the wind from the sails of those who advocate whole body vibrations as a way of improving bone density for the senior generation.

The findings were presented at the 50th anniversary congress of the European Calcified Tissue Society (ECTS), being held in Lisbon, Portugal, on May 18-21, 2013.

As we grow older, many of us suffer from the effects of weakening bones, which leads to an increased risk of fractures; this can be particularly true for women after the menopause. An answer is generally agreed to lie in the density of the bones: improve density and the risk of breakages is reduced.

Various approaches are taken to improving bone mineral density (BMD), including calcium supplements and proprietary drugs, but one drug-free approach that has often been advanced is the idea of whole body vibration (WBV).  WBV, it has been said, can increase the density of an older person's bones.

Until recently, the main tests for the hypothesis were based only on trialling the method over a reasonably short time-scale (a year) and did not include a 'sham' platform – the non-drug equivalent of a placebo. This trialling suggested that WBV had no effects but needed to be more thorough to produce genuinely conclusive results.

whether the oldest age group is likely to benefit has been called into question by our study
Douglas Kiel

By contrast, the recent 'VIBES' trial, carried out by a group from Harvard University, was conducted over a three year period, involving 174 men and women with an average age of around 82, and included a 'sham' platform, which resembled the real apparatus but did not actually do anything. The trial consisted of 10 minutes' treatment a day.

At the end of the trial, CT scans showed no appreciable difference in volumetric BMD between those who used the real platform and those who had the sham platform, confirmed by measuring biochemical markers of bone turnover.

Douglas Kiel, of Hebrew Seniorlife and Harvard Medical School, who led the trial, commented: "This trial offers another look at whether this approach can help seniors improve their bones. We were surprised that not much bone was being lost in this age group and this may have limited our ability to find small benefits. We think that larger studies will be needed in the future and whether the oldest age group is likely to benefit has been called into question by our study."

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Notes for editors
The European Calcified Tissue Society (ECTS) is the major organisation in Europe for researchers and clinicians working in the field of calcified tissues and related fields and in 2013 is celebrating its 50th anniversary. ECTS acts as a forum for the dissemination of high quality research through its annual meeting, the European Symposium on Calcified Tissues, and through training courses and workshops.

Calcified tissues are central to a healthy skeleton and to bone disorders - such as osteoporosis, back pain and fractures - that make life a misery for countless people. Children can inherit some forms of bone diseases causing bone pain, shortness and deformed limbs.

The 50th anniversary meeting of the European Calcified Tissue Society takes place in Lisbon, Portugal, on May 18-21, 2013. Some 3,500 delegates are expected to attend.

About the study

The 'VIBES' trial ("Vibration to Improve Bone in Elderly Subjects") was a randomized, sham-controlled trial of 10 minutes of daily WBV (0.3g at 30 Hz) in seniors recruited from 16 independent living communities around Boston Massachusetts, USA.  It randomized 174 men and women (89 active, 85 sham) with T-scores -1 to -2.5 who were not taking bone active drugs and had no diseases affecting the skeleton (mean age 82 ± 7 yrs range 65-102). Participants received calcium 1,000 mg and vitamin D 800 IU.

The trial was originally planned for two years, but was extended for a third year. Shared intervention platforms were activated using radiofrequency ID cards providing electronic adherence monitoring. 'Sham' platforms resembled the active platforms.  In total, 61% of participants in the active arm and 73% in the sham arm completed 24 months. Of 29 individuals assigned to the active arm who agreed to a third year, 97% completed it; for the sham arm, 85% of 26 completed the third year.

The primary outcomes measured by QCT, absolute changes in total femoral trabecular BMD, and in average mid-vertebral trabecular BMD of L1 and L2, were no different between active and sham arms (differences=0.0011 and 0.0003 g/cm3 respectively, all p-values > 0.2).  Changes in biochemical markers of bone turnover (P1NP and sCTX) did not differ between groups (p=0.18 and p=0.97 respectively).  Overall, mean adherence was 69 percent.  In conclusion, this sham-controlled randomized trial of daily WBV in seniors of advanced age did not demonstrate evidence of beneficial effects on QCT BMD.

About the Institute for Aging Research

Scientists at the Institute for Aging Research seek to transform the human experience of aging by conducting research that will ensure a life of health, dignity and productivity into advanced age. The Institute carries out rigorous studies that discover the mechanisms of age-related
disease and disability; lead to the prevention, treatment and cure of disease; advance the standard of care for older people; and inform public decision-making.

About Hebrew SeniorLife

Hebrew SeniorLife, an affiliate of Harvard Medical School, is a national senior services leader uniquely dedicated to rethinking, researching and redefining the possibilities of aging. Based in Boston, the non-profit, non-sectarian organization has provided communities and health care for seniors, research into aging, and education for geriatric care providers since 1903. For more information about Hebrew SeniorLife, visit or connect on Twitter, Facebook or our blog.

For further information please contact
Roberta Mugnai, ECTS executive director
European Calcified Tissue Society (ECTS)
Tel: + 32 476 520 716

Media contacts

Roberta Mugnai, ECTS executive director
Tel: + 32 476 520 716

VIBES trial Douglas Kiel calcified tissue ECTS Boston Mass senior generation bone density older people's bone density body vibration therapy whole body vibrations Hebrew SeniorLife Harvard Medical School


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