A High-Tech Recovery Treadmill Inspired by Space
"That's one small step for man, one giant leap for mankind." When astronaut Neil Armstrong took those first steps on the low-gravity lunar surface, little did he know that NASA-developed zero-gravity techology would someday represent a probable giant leap for athletes recovering from injury.
To prevent bone loss and muscle deterioration in astronauts, NASA research scientist Robert Whalen proposed a machine that could mimic Earth's gravity using using differential air pressure. Today, his son has refined the technology to instead mimic space's anti-gravity, and sells it commercially as a modified treadmill that's making its way into gyms and rehabilitation clinics for training and—its chief use today—injury rehab.
The AlterG Treadmill works by isolating a user's lower body and applying air pressure that essentially "lifts" weight from him or her, therefore reducing the stress that running and walking can cause to their joints, muscles and injuries.
To use the AlterG, you climb into a plastic-covered “cockpit” and zip into the machine at your waist. The cockpit fills with enough air to lift your heels off the ground, "unweighting" from 20 to 100 percent of your body weight. It takes a little practice to find your stride, which may be wobbly at first, but the result can be a solid, low- to no-impact cardio workout for an athlete recovering from injury.
The AlterG was recently FDA-cleared for functional rehabilitation post-injury and post-surgery, as well as gait training, weight loss, aerobic conditioning and sport-specific training. Already, the technology is catching on with professional athletic teams in leagues like the NBA and NFL, as well as with university athletic departments, who use the machine to help athletes recover from stress injuries.
If the technology sounds a little too Space Age, well, that's because it is. But it might just be the best way to continue exercise and rehabilitation from a serious injury. If you feel like taking one for a test run, a number of luxury gyms in New York City and Los Angeles now have them.