A revolutionary medical rehabilitation treadmill, based on NASA-patented technology, is now available to the growing number of older Australians with hip and knee problems, particularly those suffering from osteoarthritis.
Osteoarthritis affects around 1.8 million Australians, with many sufferers experiencing severe mobility restrictions and chronic pain. Osteoarthritis is primarily an age-related condition, with the impact most commonly experienced by our older population. It also has a huge financial impact, with an estimated cost to the Australian economy of $23.9 billion per year.
One of the key recommendations for osteoarthritis sufferers is to keep active, however this is often not possible due to the pain caused by the condition itself.
'It's always been a bit of a catch-22," says Brad McIntosh, Managing Director of Sydney Physiotherapy Solutions. 'We know it's really important that people keep moving when they have OA, but when weight-bearing causes pain, moving can be next to impossible. The AlterG removes the -weight-bearing' aspect of running or walking, making it a fantastic rehabilitation tool."
Colleen Gray, a 65-year-old woman with osteoarthritis, tried the AlterG after being referred to Sydney Physiotherapy Solutions by her orthopaedic surgeon, in an attempt to prevent knee surgery.
'I would usually avoid treadmill type exercise due to the impact on my joints, but the AlterG felt great. It provided a wonderful feeling of lightness," said Colleen. 'I feel energised and pain free using the AlterG. I can walk at a good pace, without that feeling that I'm damaging my joints."
The AlterG can -unweight' someone to just 20% of their body weight, allowing those with arthritic pain, or people recovering from injury or surgery, to walk or run with minimal impact. Weight can be increased by 1% increments as the patient recovers, until they are able to bear their full weight.
Built around technology developed by NASA engineers, the AlterG has been clinically proven to shorten recovery times, reduce injury and improve mobility.
The AlterG has been used as a -secret weapon' by elite athletes and sportspeople for some time, a fact Australian Olympian Gemma Etheridge is very grateful for. After experiencing a potentially career-ending knee injury just weeks out from the 2016 Rio Olympic selections, Gemma turned to the AlterG to help her recover from radical ligament surgery in time to make the games.
'I was completely devastated when I was first injured - I honestly didn't know if I'd be able to come back in time for the Olympics," says Gemma. 'But after my surgery, I used the AlterG three times a week as part of my rehab treatment, and it definitely helped speed up my recovery. It allowed me to run without a lot of impact on my knee, so I didn't lose much of my fitness as I was able to get back to training just a few weeks after surgery."
The AlterG is an ideal rehabilitation tool for people recovering from injury or surgery, as well as people suffering from chronic conditions such as osteoarthritis. It is suitable for everyone from elite athletes through to the elderly – anyone who has been cleared to exercise by their doctor can use the AlterG.
'For people suffering from osteoarthritis of the hip or knee, the AlterG can be a real life-saver. Including anti-gravity treadmill sessions in a comprehensive treatment plan can improve a patient's mobility and delay, or even prevent, the need for surgery," explains Brad.
In Australia, osteoarthritis leads to more than 45,000 knee replacements and more than 27,000 hip replacements each year . The rehabilitation from these surgeries is often long and painful, with many patients never recovering full function.
Arthroscopic surgery is another commonly performed procedure used to treat osteoarthritic joints, however, evidence from clinical trials suggests that the procedure offers no relief from pain and no improvement in function for patients with osteoarthritis.
Recommended treatments for the pain, inflammation and reduced function associated with osteoarthritis now focus on non-invasive strategies such as exercise, weight management and physiotherapy. The zero-impact of the AlterG Anti-Gravity Treadmill can assist patients with osteoarthritis to achieve their exercise goals, and manage their weight with minimal pain.
The AlterG is now available to all patients at the state-of-the-art physiotherapy clinic Sydney Physiotherapy Solutions at Chatswood, on Sydney's north shore. The treadmill is suitable for people of all ages and fitness levels, and is ideal for post-surgery rehabilitation, patients with osteoarthritis, and to aid recovery of a wide range of lower body injuries.
PATIENT CASE STUDIES
Colleen Gray, 65, North Curl Curl
A couple of years after undergoing bilateral knee replacement surgery due to osteoarthritis in 2011, Colleen Gray, an active 65-year-old from Sydney's northern beaches, experienced a painful injury to her right knee while cycling. This new injury meant that she was no longer able to enjoy walking or exercising, with arthritic changes in her feet exacerbating the problem. Colleen was referred to Sydney Physiotherapy Solutions on the recommendation of her orthopaedic surgeon, in an attempt to prevent further surgery.
Physiotherapist Ian Nicholas introduced Colleen to the AlterG treadmill, and explained some of the benefits, particularly in relation to reducing the impact on arthritic joints.
'Ian told me that the treadmill was designed by NASA and invited me to try it out. I was very glad I did! I would usually avoid treadmill type exercise due to the impact on my joints, but the AlterG felt great. It provided a wonderful feeling of lightness," explained Colleen.
Colleen has found that walking on the AlterG is easy and comfortable. After donning the required pants – similar to wetsuit pants – she is zippered into the anti-gravity bag on the treadmill while air is circulated through the compartment.
'I feel energised and pain free using the AlterG. I can walk at a good pace, without that feeling that I'm damaging my joints," she continues. 'It's early days yet but so far I'm finding that the AlterG is offering me a chance to get fit comfortably and quickly, without pain and impact."
Olympian Gemma Etheridge
When Australian rugby sevens player Gemma Etheridge suffered a potentially career-limiting anterior cruciate ligament (ACL) knee injury just 16 weeks out from the Rio 2016 Olympics, she turned to the AlterG to get her back to full strength after surgery.
'I was completely devastated when I was first injured. I honestly didn't know if I'd be able to come back in time for the Olympics," says Gemma. 'It was the third time I'd done it – the same injury - and my options were looking pretty slim. But after fairly radical LARS (Ligament Augmentation Reconstructive) surgery I was feeling positive that I'd be able to get back to full strength in time for Olympic selections. I used the AlterG three times a week as part of my rehab treatment, and it definitely helped speed up my recovery. It allowed me to tick of load (km) requirements without a lot of impact on my knee, so I didn't lose much of my fitness as I was able to keep training even straight after surgery."
On the advice of physiotherapists and the medical team at Australian Rugby Union (ARU), Gemma used the AlterG treadmill three times a week for approximately 10 weeks of rehabilitation.
'The AlterG is great because it allows you to run as you normally would, while reducing your weight, so there was no impact on my injury. It looks a bit strange, but once you're on and zipped in, it's not really much different to a standard treadmill, apart from the fact that it can make you weigh much less!" continues Gemma.
'The AlterG was definitely a crucial part of my rehabilitation from my knee injury. I was up and running on it only six weeks after my surgery, and it allowed me to maintain my fitness when normally I would have been laid up for months."
After 10 weeks of rehab, Gemma was able to demonstrate to the Olympic Selection Committee that she was fit and strong enough to be an Olympic contender.
'I cried when I got the call saying I'd made it into the squad for Rio 2016. There was such a long time that I thought it would never happen, it really was an incredible moment," finishes Gemm