Posted: Monday, April 24, 2023

Using Anti-Gravity Machines In Physical Therapy

Anti-gravity treadmills like the Alter-G and Boost are revolutionizing physical therapy, rehabilitation and sports performance. The team at Blount Memorial Total Rehabilitation has two anti-gravity treadmills in their arsenal to help patients heal quickly and efficiently while retaining muscle mass, range of motion and function. These machines are a non-weightbearing exercise alternative and can be used after orthopedic injury or surgery to gain strength and endurance, and manage neurological conditions, chronic disease or obesity. 

The anti-gravity treadmills originally were created for astronauts at the International Space Station to maintain fitness levels and allow them to exercise for several hours to combat loss of bone mass and muscle. These machines use NASA Differential Air Pressure Technology to calibrate weight and remove 20 to 100 percent of body weight using air pressure. “This is a great option for patients that cannot put full weight on their injured leg,” Blount Memorial Total Rehabilitation physical therapist Julie Young said. “It’s not just for runners. Anti-gravity can be used for total hip and knee replacements, ACL and labral repairs, healed fractures, or tendon injuries that need to retrain and learn to walk again,” Young added.

Anti-gravity treadmills look like regular treadmills, only with a plastic see-through bubble around the bottom. The patient wears tight leggings or special shorts, steps into the chamber, and zips in so the lower body is completely enclosed and supported by air pressure. “The treadmill weighs the patient, allowing the therapist to set a specific percentage of air pressure or ‘unweighting.’ We can set speed and incline based on the therapist’s recommendation and patient’s level of recovery.” Young explained. The clear bubble and a series of surrounding cameras give views of the legs and feet, allowing the therapist to observe and evaluate gait and the mechanics of movement during exercise and make recommendations for corrections.

“This is a great way for an injured runner to continue to train and maintain cardiovascular fitness while preventing muscle atrophy during the recovery phase of therapy. You can continue training which leads to a nice transition back to sport. We can progress patients who just had surgery or recently came out of a cast in a graded fashion. When you are unweighted a lot, it feels like you are barely touching the ground, eliminating pain and limping, thus normalizing gait. You can work on walking or running mechanics without the resistance of deep water or full body weight,” Young said.

“We use a running progression program starting with walking, walk/jog and then building up to running at higher body weight percentages until the patient is ready to run on land. With our runners we focus on cadence making sure their turnover is at least 170-180 beats per minute. Research shows that this can decrease lower leg injuries considerably. It’s a great tool to allow runners to transition back to running in a healthy way,” Young added.

For more information or to schedule a consultation with a physical therapist, call Blount Memorial Total Rehabilitation at 865-238-6118.

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