Revolutionary rehabilitation technology that got its start, quite literally, "out of this world" has just arrived at Peninsula-NRH Regional Rehabilitation in the Woodbrooke Medical Complex in Salisbury.
It's called AlterG, and it's an antigravity treadmill that was first developed by NASA so astronauts spending long periods of time outside of our planet's atmosphere could work out in space. It was originally designed to add gravity, preventing spacemen and spacewomen from floating away while exercising.
Here on earth, that thinking has been reversed. The goal, through reducing gravity on the treadmill, is to put less stress on knee and hip joints as a person rehabs from an injury or surgery. Only four NRH (National Rehabilitation Hospital) centers in Maryland offer this highly specialized technology that can be customized to each patient's need and ability.
"As rehab specialists, we want our patients to become mobile as soon as possible, but we also want that success achieved in the safest possible environment," said Josh Billings, Regional Director and Running Program Specialist with NRH.
And that's what really sets AlterG apart. As an antigravity device, it uses air pressure as a gradual lifting force that enables a person to comfortably walk or run, without putting undue stress on joints and ligaments.
How it works is absolutely high-tech. A person is zipped into a specialized, air-tight bubble that surrounds the treadmill, a seal is created, air is introduced, and by adjusting its pressure, therapists can lighten an individual's weight, reducing the strain to as little as 20% of the patient's actual body weight. The same walking or running mechanics are used, and the person never loses contact with the treadmill.
This rehab environment allows the establishment of an exact point where exercise becomes pain free, providing clinicians a way to accurately measure patient progress.
The technology can also be used by people required to work out prior to joint replacement surgery, by bariatric patients and even those with arthritis — like lifelong runner and elementary school principal 60-year-old Rocco Ferretti of Arnold, Maryland — who have additional motivations. "I told my daughter Abby that I would run a marathon with her before I turned 60," said Ferretti, who did exactly that, completing the Marine Corps Marathon in Washington, DC last October. "Right now, I'm at about 90 percent and able to get in my workout relatively pain free."
His physician recommended AlterG at an NRH facility in Baltimore to build back up his strength following a couple of knee cartilage surgeries. "When they adjusted the machine to 75 percent of my body weight, I was like a kid running on a playground — the difference was that significant. It allowed me to rehab my knee, and more importantly to follow through on a promise to my daughter."
Staff members at Peninsula-NRH Regional Rehab in the Woodbrooke Medical complex were trained on the AlterG, which is now patient-ready. To learn more about the technology, please call Peninsula-NRH Regional Rehab at 410-546-2702.