Anti-gravity treadmill gives physio patients a lift
Advanced treadmill helps ease chronic joint pain so patients can get more exercise.
By BEV BETKOWSKI
When Mariya Oleinikova exercises these days, she feels light as air, thanks to a new cutting-edge treadmill at the University of Alberta’s physical therapy clinic.
The pain from the arthritis in her knees melts away when she steps onto the new anti-gravity treadmill at the Corbett Hall student clinic in the Faculty of Rehabilitation Medicine, and she’s able to follow her doctor’s orders about getting more exercise.
“It’s easy walking (with this machine),” said Oleinikova, who wants to ease her chronic pain by exercising her knees more.
As the first patient to use the treadmill—which was installed in the clinic in late December—she is noticing a difference when she does go for walks between physical therapy sessions.
“The pain is less when I walk at home now.”
Swathed by a vacuum-sealed plastic membrane that resembles a bouncy castle when pumped full of air, the state-of-the-art treadmill, known as the AlterG, relieves users from up to 80 per cent of their body weight. Patients like Oleinikova slip into a pair of fitted neoprene shorts, which are zipped into the AlterG and pressurized. The result gives patients an airy lift that reduces strain on sore joints and lets them walk or run up to speeds of 15 kilometres per hour.
When someone has an injury, that pain can be a significant barrier in their ability to exercise. And we know from scientific evidence that exercise helps someone feel better, regardless of what their condition is.
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“When someone has an injury, that pain can be a significant barrier in their ability to exercise. And we know from scientific evidence that exercise helps someone feel better, regardless of what their condition is,” said clinic co-ordinator Kim Dao, a U of A professor in physical therapy and rehabilitation.
“Lifting someone’s weight and allowing them to walk or run allows them to still exercise and get the cardiovascular benefits, while at the same time protecting the joints. This helps overcome physical and mental barriers to exercise as they recover from their injuries.”
The AlterG has the potential to be used by patients who have ankle or hip pain, stroke, spinal cord or brain injuries, and other musculoskeletal disorders.
It’s an innovative addition to the clinic, replacing and providing similar benefits to more cumbersome methods of rehabilitation like hydrotherapy—pool exercises—that aren’t easily accessed, Dao noted.
The treadmill will help meet the needs of a growing senior population who have more orthopedic and other complex conditions. The low-cost clinic, which is available to take new patients, booked about 1,100 new assessments last year.
“With the decreasing services that the public system is able to provide and that the general population can readily access, we see it being a well-used tool in our clinic,” said Dao.
The treadmill, one of only two in Edmonton, is also a valuable hands-on teaching resource for the U of A physical therapy students who staff the clinic and work with patients like Oleinikova, Dao added.
“We teach about principles in changing buoyancy and offloading weight, and they get to see these principles in practice. The AlterG helps translate knowledge into a clinical setting.”