When rehabilitating from an injury, joint surgery, or other physical challenge that affects function and mobility, patients’ bodies—more precisely, their body weight—can actually stand in the way of their recovery. After all, getting up on your feet and motivated to move is no simple matter if doing so causes excruciating joint pain or puts you at risk of falling.
Always seeking innovative ways to help their rehab patients recover and transition back to their normal lives as quickly and safely as possible, the Laurels of Toledo recently introduced the state-of-the-art AlterG® Anti-Gravity Treadmill® to their repertoire of therapeutic modalities, and this cutting-edge technology is having a dramatic impact on patients’ progress and outcomes.
The AlterG, developed by NASA engineers while studying the biomechanics of exercise in space, uses differential air pressure technology to “unweight” (or “unload”) patients as they walk, stand, or perform various exercises on the treadmill under the close supervision of a therapist. The unit can unweight patients as much as 80 percent while allowing normal gait mechanics.
To use the AlterG, patients put on special pants that zip into an inflatable chamber on the treadmill. The therapist then calibrates the machine and increases the air pressure in the chamber to the desired level. Video cameras located at the front and on either side of the treadmill allow the patient and therapist to observe on a monitor exactly what’s going on with the patient’s gait from multiple vantage points.
Perhaps not surprisingly, unweighting patients with the AlterG has a wide range of uses in orthopedic and sports medicine, for example in rehabilitating patients with total knee or hip replacement, arthritis, ACL or Achilles tendon injury, or any other injury, surgery, or disability affecting the lower body. It’s also helpful for athletes who want to increase their training volume or stay in peak condition while recovering from injury or surgery.
Laurels physical therapy assistant Brad Weaver explains that patients are often given specific weight-bearing limitations by their doctors. For example, an orthopedic patient may be told to limit weight bearing on a particular extremity to only 50%. “With the AlterG, we can very precisely dial in any level of weight bearing, with increments as small as 1%, so we can stay in total compliance with doctors’ orders as we work on increasing activity tolerance,” he says.
As the patient’s tolerance increases, the therapist can adjust the amount of weight borne by the body incrementally downward until the patient is able to manage the activities at normal weight and can then transition to performing them with no assistance from the machine.
However, the applications for this technology go far beyond orthopedic and sports rehab. “For example, the AlterG can be tremendously advantageous in boosting activity tolerance in patients with congestive heart failure or other cardiac conditions, so we’ve incorporated the unit in our cardiac recovery program to prepare them to function independently at home as well as to get them ready to participate in a formal cardiac rehabilitation program,” says Weaver. Other applications include promoting weight loss in significantly overweight patients so they can qualify for joint replacement or other procedures, conditioning and fall prevention in the elderly, and improving gait mechanics and trunk control in patients with neurological conditions such as Parkinson’s disease, stroke, traumatic brain injury, cerebral palsy, and multiple sclerosis.
Laurels rehab patients appreciate that there’s no extra cost to incorporating the AlterG in their therapy programs—and that it’s available to both inpatient and outpatient rehab clients. Patients participating in the outpatient program—which is offered seven days a week—may also qualify for free bus transportation to and from The Laurels based on distance from the facility and accessibility to their home.❦