More research studies are focusing on the use of unweighting equipment to rehabilitate their patients. While the trend towards this new technology has been recent, the studies show promising results in research populations. Use of special, unweighted exercise equipment pertains to individuals dealing with spinal issues, lower back pain, degenerative joint diseases, leg pain, balance problems and recovering stroke patients (Bergens). During a typical rehabilitation session on an unweighted treadmill, the patient is secured into a harness that attaches from above. The amount of pull is determined based on the weight of the patient and severity of their pain. After being unweighted, the patient walks or runs for five to ten minutes on the treadmill. ( Revita Rehab treatments do not include running on the treadmill, but over the course of treatment patients will walk forwards, backwards and sideways.) Many of the studies focused on the benefits of rehabilitating patients on unweighted treadmills in comparison to more traditional physical therapy methods, such as basic treadmill running or walking. Improvements were shown in patient gaits (endurance, stride, and cadence), muscle activation, and lower extremity muscle activity (Leahy, 2010).
One of the main benefits for patients using unweighted treadmills is the ability to practice rhythmic walking with less impact on their joints (Barros, R., et al., 2007). The harness decreases the workload placed on the body that exists during normal exercise. The harness also ensures upright posture and a sense of security, for less confident walkers and older, more unstable patients (Leahy, 2010). Because speeds and weights can be monitored with unweighting devices, the supervising doctor or physical therapist can analyze the issue and explain how to correct the problem. In normal walking situations, pain from body weight can cause the patient to compensate with other muscles, thereby creating additional problems (Barros, R., et al., 2007). Unweighting ensures that the patient begins at a comfortable pace and weight. As the task becomes too simple, the supervising doctor or PT adds more of the patient’s natural body weight and increases the speed. Thus, the patient rehabilitates at a safer rate, rather than beginning the process with too much strain on the body.
Proprioception plays a large role in an individual’s gait and ability to walk comfortably with confidence. Proprioception is the patient’s ability to determine his/her joint position in relation to its space and time. For example, an individual with superior proprioceptive senses will have little trouble walking on uneven ground with smooth, consistent steps. In one study, Barros, R., et al. (2007) found that participants increased their walking speeds, cadence, stride length and improved their weight shifting ability. Furthermore, the patients were found to have more continuous steps with shorter rest breaks. Body weight support devices allow the patient to take faster, more efficient steps than they would with rolling walkers or wheelchairs (Barros, R., et al., 2007). Unweighting devices thus give patients a rehabilitation advantage, by allowing them to control the parameters of their workout. With unweighted rehab equipment, patients are no longer limited to simple, basic workouts. Once unweighted, they can perform more tasks, with less strain on the body.
At Revita Rehab, patients are lead through a seven-step rehabilitation process, often incorporating an unweighted treadmill. The unweighted treadmill in combination with several other vibration tools and traction devices works to decrease the patient’s pain, and improve circulation and balance. Revita strives to meet the needs of our patients and get them back on their feet, as soon as possible. In the words of Revita’s physical therapist Donelle Odren,
Using the unweighted treadmill has provided me improved insight while performing gait analysis. This in turn allows me to explain and show patients their dysfunction while performing a functional activity, and how they can start correcting at home.
One of the most common complaints we receive from new patients is that they can no longer perform a favorite pastime or physical activity. Using the unweighted treadmill and other rehabilitation equipment, we typically have more luck relieving pain faster and more efficiently, thereby restoring patients’ quality of life.
Barros, R., Lindquist, A., Lobo, P., Prado, L., Mattioli, R., Salvini, T. Gait training combining partial body-weight support, a treadmill, and functional electrical stimulation: effects on poststroke gait. American Physical Therapy Association. (2007); 87: 1144-1154.
Bergen, Teresa. “Unweighted Treadmills & Spinal Stenosis.” Livestrong.com. N.p., April 26, 2011. Web. 29 Nov 2011. <http://www.livestrong.com/article/376863-unweighted-treadmills-spinal-stenosis/>.
Leahy, T. Impact of a limited trial of walking training using body weight support and a treadmill on the gait characteristics of an individual with chronic, incomplete spinal cord injury. Department of Physical Therapy. (2010). 26: 483-489.