Are antigravity treadmills effective for injury rehabilitation?
Antigravity treadmills, costly exercise equipment that supports the exerciser's body weight, may not provide benefit.
From the Field
Should I seek out an anti-gravity treadmill for a back and lower-body injury?
Antigravity treadmills for injury rehabilitation
Several sports and military facilities use costly antigravity treadmills for injury rehabilitation, but there is insufficient scientific evidence so far to support their use for this purpose.
Myths and Claims
Proponents of antigravity treadmills for use in back and lower-body-injury rehabilitation claim that running in a low-gravity environment using a treadmill that supports body weight is an effective way to rehabilitate an injury. They also claim these are useful for training overweight and elderly individuals.
An antigravity treadmill ranges in cost from $25,000 to $75,000. The use of antigravity treadmills for injury rehabilitation has not been adequately studied to date and is largely supported by case studies and biomechanical analyses of impact forces on the lower body during running and/or walking on such a device. The antigravity treadmill works by partially supporting an individual’s body weight with a positive-pressure air system. Although promising, use of this device for injury rehabilitation is not yet grounded on solid evidence. Research confirms that mechanical loading forces during running are indeed reduced with a treadmill that partially supports body weight, but reports of efficacy in injury rehabilitation are limited to anecdotal case studies. The efficacy of antigravity treadmills in training overweight and elderly individuals has not been studied. More research needs to be conducted to justify the expense of such a costly device in a military setting.
Meanwhile, most military facilities provide access to a swimming pool. Aqua (water/deep water) running has been shown conclusively to be an effective training method and a useful tool for injury rehabilitation. The buoyancy provided by water serves to reduce loading and impact forces on the body, and this method is a readily available and affordable resource to Warfighters.
A potential benefit of antigravity treadmills is the reduced space requirement, as compared to a pool, if a facility has significant space constraints. However, most bases have pools, which have been proven to be effective for rehabilitation from injury.
Military leadership should be careful when directing financial resources for the acquisition of costly equipment that does not have solid, research-based evidence to support its intended use.
Summary For Military Relevance
Use of antigravity treadmills for injury rehabilitation, a promising but costly alternative to traditional treatment and/or aqua therapy, is not yet supported by solid research. Aqua running produces sufficient cardiovascular training and reduces most of the lower-body loading forces imposed by running on land or a treadmill. Water running, which is available using the pools on most military installations, should be considered as a low-cost, scientifically supported alternative to costly antigravity treadmills, which have not been adequately studied to date.
* Bottom Line Up Front