Losing bone density may seem like an inevitable part of aging, but that's a fate worth avoiding. Brittle bones make you much more susceptible to fractures in your hips, wrists, and spine. More than 200 million people have diseases like osteoporosis and osteogenesis, which cause significant loss in bone density.
But now there's hope for a way to restore bone mass (and it doesn't entail mainlining milk). A team of researchers at the University of Liverpool implanted neuromuscular stimulators inside rats’ legs and had them pulse every 30 seconds for 28 days, causing the muscle groups on the outside of their shins to contract. "The routine pulsing didn’t impair the animals’ movements at all," says study author Paula Vickerton, an evolutionary and biomechanics PhD student. "In fact, you couldn’t even tell when the pacers were on unless you felt their legs."
After the trials were over, the rats were examined with CT scans and it was found that their bone volume had increased by a remarkable 30% in the stimulated area. The same stimulation process has been used to boost muscle strength and rehabilitation for years, but its effect on bones had never been examined until now.
"Our results imply that a carefully designed stimulation plan could increase bone volume within specific regions of the bone," Vickerton says. "While our study is not near a clinical application, it is a very promising lead and is already being followed up with new experiments."
Obviously people don’t want to be twitching every 30 seconds throughout the day. So right now different stimulation patterns and frequencies are being tested to see which will make the most comfortable and effective treatment options. Current possibilities include: lower frequency, undetectable continuous stimulation, or a daily half hour of stronger stimulation.