Lauren Loftis, a doctor in town, was training for her first marathon this year when she developed an inflamed tendon in her knee, a condition that felt like someone stabbing her with an ice pick.
Regular therapy on an AlterG Anti-Gravity Treadmill that decreases the pressure on Loftis’ lower joints has helped her keep training, and she expects to participate in the marathon Jan. 12, she said.
“It’s been a lifesaver,” she said.
The anti-gravity treadmill at Mercy Sports Medicine in the Centennial Center has been in place since the office opened in that location two years ago, and it is used every day, said Luke Angel, manager of rehabilitation.
The treadmill relies on air pressure to reduce how much body weight is placed on the user’s joints. It can reduce a person’s body weight by up to 80% to help relieve pain while the user walks or runs. This allows them to normalize their gait while protecting their damaged tissue, he said.
“This allows you to get your normal gait back and relearn that,” he said.
The treadmill works well to help rehabilitate all kinds of injuries below the waist, Angel said. It can also be paired with many other types of rehabilitation, such as balance training, therapeutic exercises and dry needling, which can help restore muscle function.
The design of the treadmill was based on an idea developed for astronauts by a NASA engineer, according to AlterG, the maker of the treadmill. The engineer designed a pressurized air chamber to simulate gravity and help astronauts maintain their strength and bone density. The idea was reversed in the design of the anti-gravity treadmill, according to the company.
The anti-gravity treadmill can be preferable to rehabilitation in a pool because it can be used after surgery by patients with incision sites that have not completely healed. Those patients typically cannot use a pool because of the risk of infection, Angel said.
The treadmill can also help a physical therapist identify if problems with a patient’s gait are caused by pain or weakness, he said.
Reducing the weight patients place on their joints can also help activate muscles the body hasn’t been using because of pain, said Janet Wells, a physical therapist with Mercy.
Pain can shut off muscles, causing the joints to move abnormally, which can create more strain on tendons and ligaments, she said.
“All of our movement patterns are like books in our brain. When you get a faulty movement pattern, that book stays in the brain. ... It just repeats the faulty movement pattern until you shut it off and retrain a new movement pattern,” Wells said.
Cameras placed around the treadmill allow patients to watch themselves while they are running and self-correct their stride length or foot position, Angel said.
In Loftis’ case, her inflamed tendon was caused by tight muscles in her hamstrings not allowing her tendon to release as her leg was going forward, Wells said.
The treadmill has also helped Loftis learn to how to run correctly, since she took it up as a new hobby because she is turning 40.
“I didn’t know how to have my gait correct for 26 miles of running. ... I am learning as I go,” she said.