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Like Running on Air

East Tennessee Spine & Sport's Anti-Gravity Treadmill is Ideal for Joints on the Mend

Coming back from a joint injury - specifically in your lower extremities - can be a slow process when any type of weight-bearing exercise is a challenge. Whether you’re an ultra-marathoner or need a fall-free zone to improve your gait, the folks at East Tennessee Spine & Sport have a machine just for you: the AlterG Anti-Gravity Treadmill.

Prior to this technology, which was originally developed by NASA in the 1990s, the only way to reduce the pressure of weight-bearing exercise was to take to the water. However, once users are zipped into the vacuum-sealed bubble via neoprene shorts (sizes run from x-small to 3XL), rehabbing leg joints on a treadmill is doable again. 

“It’s the same concept as underwater treadmills,” says Greg Sills, physical therapy assistant. “But this way, if someone is supposed to be at 50 percent weight-bearing after surgery, we can set a true 50 percent [on the treadmill].” 

Two populations in particular benefit from anti-gravity technology: athletes rehabbing a joint injury but still need to maintain cardiovascular fitness levels and those who are at a fall risk, such as an older patient with a shuffled gait or someone in need of help with balance. 

For example, take the runner who might be training for the Knoxville Marathon but has a nagging case of tendonitis. He or she can still work on their fitness level while mitigating the stress and strain on joints. 

“Athletes can still train but we can unload the joints,” says Greg. “It’s also a fall-free zone, so, for example, someone with Parkinson’s can work on their gait and weight-bearing status. We can start at 50 to 65 percent of weight, but I’ve started someone at 30 percent. He had nerve damage and that’s where we needed to start.” 

This is where the clear walls of the vacuum-sealed bubble come in handy. Physical therapists can watch their patient’s gait and stride from all angles, record the exercise if necessary, and make adjustments as the program unfolds over time. 

From a slow-and-steady walk to sprinting, the AtlerG is entirely customizable and adjusts to whatever the patient needs, from 100 percent weight bearing all the way down to 20 percent. For example, someone who weighs 200 pounds might feel as light as 40 pounds during a walk or run on the treadmill. The cardiovascular benefits are still there, as is the stabilization, but pressure on the joints is significantly less. 

Finally, Tennessee is a Direct Access state for physical therapy, which means you don’t need a doctor’s referral to see if the AlterG Anti-Gravity Treadmill would benefit you. If you have a nagging injury or are still recovering from a surgery on a lower extremity, save yourself the copay at your primary care doctor and pop into one of the three locations that have the treadmill - Farragut, Oak Ridge, or Hardin Valley. 

Operating hours at all six locations of East Tennessee Spine & Sport are 7 a.m. to 7 p.m. Visit to learn more. 

  • Greg Sills, PTA