Discovering the Alter G anti-gravity treadmill at Mount Alvernia Hospital

Ruth Calder is Deputy Physiotherapy Manager at BMI Mount Alvernia Hospital. 

As an experienced clinician Ruth runs the hydrotherapy service at the hospital and has been integral to the recent gym upgrade and introduction of the Alter G Anti-gravity treadmill which she is finding very useful for a wide variety of conditions.

The Alter G antigravity treadmill enables patients to exercise and rehabilitate with less pain and resistance by reducing the amount of body weight loading the joints. This can help reduce the risk of further injury and promote recovery. The reduction in body weight is achieved by using air in a pressure controlled chamber to support the user whilst they exercise.

We caught up with Ruth to ask her a few questions about the Alter G and her role in assisting patients using the technology.

It was initially designed by a NASA scientist to provide astronauts with a gravity treadmill to help them exercise whilst in space and reduce their risk of osteoporosis. Ultimately it was never actually used in space as it proved to be far too heavy for the spacecraft. However this technology was reversed by the inventor's son in a university project to create an antigravity version, which provides us with a new way to assist recovery and enhance a patient's rehabilitation.

We thought it might just be yet another fad or exercise gimmick , however the results speak for themselves and we are finding it very beneficial for so many different conditions.

I use it a lot for patients who have orthopaedic conditions with pain and stiffness in their joints on weight bearing e.g for those with back, hips, knees and feet problems and who cannot run normally, however when you are able to offload some of their body weight they are able to exercise without pain. We use it post operatively for patients who have had an injury or joint surgery and for recovery from sports injuries or for strengthening programmes to enhance sporting performance. We have two local high profile teams who use it regularly.

It is great for strengthening and conditioning in a fall-safe environment for elderly patients or allowing those participating in weight loss programmes to exercise at a reduced body weight or for gait training and strengthening for neurological patients. It can also be used to assist with trunk balance and hold someone safely so they can then work on their arms.

We find that it is proving very helpful with cancer patients who may be still be feeling fatigued after treatment as we can reduce their body weight and provide support, reducing the strain on their muscles and joints in a graded way and allowing them to start to rebuilding some muscle strength again.

The psychological sense of well-being it provides is a really important part of the treatment on the Alter G , as some patients whom perhaps have a long term condition and are unable to walk under normal conditions can find they can walk normally whilst on the machine, this gives them a real boost.

We are aware that many professional football and rugby clubs and elite athletes such as Paula Radcliffe and Mo Farrar have their own Alter G's . It allows these elite sportspeople to train, increase and maintain their muscle endurance and cardiovascular fitness without pounding their joints away.

You put on some lycra shorts which have an enlarged & zipped waistband around them and you step into compartment which is zipped up to create the seal  and then fills with air. It is like stepping into a bubble and the amount of air is regulated so you can vary how much of your weight is offloaded. This creates a different environment to exercise in which is easier and you can then do exercises in standing or in walking on the flat or up and down a gradient, forwards or backwards.

You could be using different grade exercise therapy or different functional training. You could  also use a range of therapies including, hydrotherapy, manual or talking.

Rather than a treatment, it's more of an environment of exercise. If you want to walk properly or balance on your own, you can do that in the AlterG anti-gravity treadmill. 

No, however, the shorts can feel a bit restrictive when your bodyweight is offloaded to 80% and it feels very bouncy to walk at 80 % bodyweight reduction as you are essentially ‘moon walking’-if pushed to the extreme,  bouncing up and down I suppose you could fall out of it. As with so many things we do not recommend that pregnant ladies go on it then there is no chance of any risk or side effect although there is no evidence to support this. It causes an increase in pressure in the capsule of 1 bar.

You can use it to build up cardiovascular fitness, stamina and endurance. By offloading someone’s weight it makes it so much easier to exercise and it puts less strain on the joints.  It can show you what it will feel like when you have lost the weight which can be highly motivating and help with compliance with an exercise programme as you can feel the real effect the weight loss will have on your body and how much easier it will be to exercise without that weight.

In conjunction with psychological support it helps the bariatric patient see the benefit they will get and adapt to the lifestyle change required to get their desired weight loss.