Joy Brunton, a freelance food PR and social media manager was diagnosed with limb-girdle muscular dystrophy, a rare muscle-wasting disease in 2014.
She met Ruth Calder, Deputy Physiotherapy Manager at BMI Mount Alvernia, at a hydrotherapy session at the hospital who introduced her to the AlterG anti-gravity treadmill and she’s been using it ever since.
The AlterG is a new rehabilitation treadmill for physical therapy that reduces up to 80% of body weight, meaning less stress on lower body injuries or surgical areas. It enables patients to rehabilitate with less pain while decreasing the risk of further injury, which could also help them recover faster. Unweighting is achieved by using air in a pressure-controlled chamber to gently lift the user.
We caught up with Joy to learn more about her background and how using the AlterG treadmill at Mount Alvernia Hospital has helped with her condition.
Please can you tell us a bit about yourself and your background
My mother had a form of muscular dystrophy but she was never diagnosed so when I was growing up I had no idea that it was an inherited disease. I have a twin sister who doesn’t have it because we’re not identical.I started running with a club when I was 28 so I’ve always been quite fit, very healthy.
There are definitely mental positives, it makes you feel better.
I then began having problems when I was about 38/39. I was having trouble walking up the stairs and I’d fall over for absolutely no reason, I’d be walking down the road and suddenly I’d be on my knees. I had an idea I had what my mum had as my symptoms were exactly the same.
I was sent to loads of different places, I had colonoscopies I didn’t need, had loads of tests done and in 2012 I had hip surgery.
I went back to doing lots of exercise trying to get over the operation and I actually discovered I was getting weaker not stronger so I went back for a second opinion. In 2014, I finally got a diagnosis; I had a rare muscle wasting disease called limb-girdle muscular dystrophy.
The condition I’ve got affects your shoulder girdle and your hip girdle, so my adductors and abductors are switching off, but not my glutes. Even though I’ve got a condition that’s diagnosed, there are 19 different versions of it and I don’t know which one I’ve got yet, they haven’t found my faulty gene.
I'm pretty convinced that if I hadn't been doing the hydrotherapy and using the AlterG... I wouldn't be walking as well as I am now.
I met Ruth Calder, Deputy Physiotherapy Manager, when I came for hydrotherapy after my hip surgery. Once I got a diagnosis, I decided I had to exercise because even though generally people with muscular dystrophy are told that exercise doesn’t help them, I kind of felt that wasn’t right.
I went to a meeting at the Muscular Dystrophy Association in London about 6 months ago and they had a specialist neuro physiotherapist there, who said that actually, exercise is important because you have to keep your secondary muscles going.
I’m pretty convinced that if I hadn’t been doing the hydrotherapy and using the AlterG as well as using an exercise bike at home, I wouldn’t be walking as well as I am now.
Would you say exercise is an important part of your lifestyle?
For me it's really important to exercise. I was a runner when I was younger and the condition I have affects your voluntary muscles.
Your heart is a combination of voluntary and involuntary muscle. My mum died of a heart attack when she was 66 so even though going on the AlterG might not help my legs, it’s definitely important for my heart health.
Ruth mentioned to me about the AlterG because I’d been going to hydrotherapy for four years, which I also find really helpful.
It’s not the same as doing exercise in something like the AlterG. When I go on the AlterG I feel normal , I get my heart rate up. It gets the endorphins going that you don’t get in any other form of exercise.
I feel really blessed that I’ve had an opportunity to have access to these things.
So is the positive mental effect one of the main benefits of the AlterG?
There are definitely mental positives, it makes you feel better . I feel that my heart is healthier.
Before I started using the AlterG, I was getting very concerned because I was getting a lot of heart palpitations.
Also, there isn’t going to be one machine that’s going to be a saving grace, you have to do a mix of things because they all bring something different to the table.
The AlterG means that I can walk normally because when you’re walking in a pool during hydrotherapy you don’t feel like you’re walking properly because you’ve got the drag of the water and it’s a very hot environment.
When I go on the AlterG I feel normal.
Being on a treadmill in a gym-like environment and being able to walk normally without using my hands to support myself, I think it’s really positive and helpful.
I definitely feel better. If someone said to me, ‘will you walk up the stairs or go in the lift’, I could say I’d rather go in a lift but actually I know I can do the stairs. You use it or you lose it.
It’s also nice to do something where I can get my heart rate up. I can do that on my exercise bike as well, but again it’s a different set of muscles because when you’re seated you’re not using your glutes in the same way as you are when you’re on something like the AlterG.
How often are you coming in at the moment?
I come in once a week, mainly because I do so many other things and I do work as well, it’s really exhausting. I could do a couple of times a week, but it’s just fitting it into a busy lifestyle.
Working is a really important part of who I am as well, I don’t want to give that up. Plus I spent a lot of money on an exercise bike at home and I feel I ought to use that occasionally…
If it hadn’t been mentioned to you by Ruth, do you think you would’ve found out about the AlterG?
I probably would’ve done because I’m always on the internet looking at things, but it probably might’ve not been for another year, whereas I’ve already been using it for a year.
Eventually these things filter through, but what I am really amazed at is how badly informed a lot of people are.
Have you felt any other physical benefits using the AlterG?
I definitely feel more upright. When I’ve been on the AlterG, I’m more upright for a bit afterwards, which is really good because it takes the stress out of my walking.