Physical therapists continually seek novel ways to help clients regain strength, endurance, flexibility, and function following injury, surgery, or illness. It was this commitment to innovation that inspired The Laurels of Toledo rehab team to add the state-of-the-art AlterG® Anti-Gravity Treadmill® to their repertoire of therapeutic modalities. This paradigm-shifting technology has truly redefined what is possible in physical rehab and training.
According to Laurels physical therapist Julie Seymour, the AlterG is NASA-driven technology that utilizes differential air pressure, or DAP, to unload patients’ body weight as they walk, stand, or perform various exercises on the treadmill. Originally designed to help counteract the loss of strength and bone density in astronauts while in space, the AlterG is proving to have a surprisingly wide range of applications right here on Earth.
“Initially, we saw this technology transfer into the realm of high-performance athletics to treat lower-extremity issues such as ankle sprains and for post-surgical rehab. We do work with athletes here at The Laurels to help them progress their workouts or build their endurance if they’re injured and not weight-bearing, but we’re also seeing that the AlterG has applications in a whole new wave of diagnoses and conditions,” Seymour states.
Among the many potential applications of the AlterG are helping stroke victims recover and relearn how to ambulate in a safe environment; helping clients who are fearful of falling regain confidence on their feet; rehabbing orthopedic clients after surgery; improving function, mobility, and endurance in clients with neurological conditions such as Parkinson’s disease, multiple sclerosis, or cerebral palsy; safely progressing cardiac clients through recovery while closely monitoring their vital signs; and promoting weight loss in significantly overweight patients so they can qualify for joint replacement or other procedures.
Seymour explains that much of the work done on the AlterG is focused on improving the client’s muscle memory and motor planning. Assisting in this regard are cameras situated at different angles, which provide a visual feedback system so clients can see exactly what they're doing and the therapist can closely monitor their gait mechanics and help them make corrections as needed. “The cameras allow us to look at how they’re walking and see which muscles are weak and which muscles are compensating—for example if they’re offloading one leg quicker than the other. The AlterG is a great tool for identifying and correcting these sorts of problems,” she says.
In addition to promoting better gait mechanics, the AlterG prevents clients from looking down at their feet while walking, which is important from the standpoint of posture. Seymour states, “When you’re looking down at your feet, your head comes forward, throwing off your anatomical alignment, so you have to bend at the knees to compensate. With the AlterG, it’s necessary to look up and straight ahead at the monitor to see what you’re doing. This allows clients to learn what it feels like to walk with proper mechanics so they can continue to do so when they don’t have a visual cue. For example, when they get up to go to the bathroom in the middle of the night and there are no lights on, they have to feel what’s underneath their feet to make corrections.”
Seymour notes that the AlterG can even be utilized in reverse so clients can develop the necessary muscle memory and motor planning to take backward steps with confidence, which is a skill people need to utilize more often than they realize—for instance when stepping back to sit on a toilet or get into a car. “On the other hand, if you’re nervous about stepping backward, you’re at much greater risk of falling,” she adds.
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. ❦