NASA Technology: Now Part Of Bielenberg’s Physical Therapy Program

The air pressure technology originally conceived as part of an effort to help NASA’s astronauts maintain fitness in space is now part of the physical therapy program at Summit’s Bielenberg Sports Center, and is enhancing the recovery of physical therapy patients.

Physical therapist Lana Schultz Krumwiede explains how the “weightless” technology of Summit’s new AlterG treadmill enhances recovery following surgery or an injury. “AlterG is a unique piece of equipment, and we are excited to have it,” she says. “Essentially, it uses air pressure technology to unweight patients. On the equipment, they can walk, run, and perform exercises like squats and balance at a reduced body weight. This enables rehabilitation patients to do more at an earlier stage, when they are still limited in their weight-bearing status.”

The differential air pressure technology used by AlterG to “unweight” patients using the equipment was originally conceived as part of an effort to help NASA’s astronauts maintain fitness during prolonged space flights. As an individual is unweighted, the unit’s elevation is increased in order to maintain the same caloric burn under lower weight conditions.

“For our patients, that weightlessness serves a different purpose,” says Schultz Krumwiede. “After surgery, patients may be restricted in the amount of weight they can put through their recovering extremity. There are postsurgical precautions to protect that joint, and these may be in place for four to six weeks. During that time, patients aren’t able to practice normal gait, because that would put too much weight on the extremity too soon. However, the AlterG allows us to ‘unweight’ people. We can take patients all the way down to 20 percent of their body weight, and this gives us the opportunity to safely normalize their gait pattern much earlier. We can unload them on the AlterG and have them practice their gait while staying within the bounds of their postsurgical protocol.

“A lot of what we do with gait is neuromuscular reeducation,” she continues. “There’s definitely a relearning that has to happen when you haven’t been able to put weight through your foot for four weeks. That can be really difficult—but using the AlterG enables these patients to achieve coordination of brain and muscles working together earlier. In effect, it shortens the time within they are able to reestablish a normal gait pattern. We can also use the AlterG equipment for strength and conditioning. Rehabilitation after injury or surgery can be painful and can make patients feel apprehensive. By trying exercises at a reduced body weight, they can ease into it and gradually ramp the weight up as the limb recovers.”

“We anticipate using this equipment in a variety of ways through our physical therapy and wellness services—from rehabilitation to weight reduction and aerobic conditioning,” she says. “People can tolerate more activity, or more prolonged activity, when they are unweighted. We can use the AlterG to ease their transition to the next level of conditioning. It is a valuable new resource, and we are excited to explore the possibilities it offers to help our patients achieve their goals.”

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