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National Rehabilitation Hospital

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Northwest DC 202-877-4674 102 Irving St NW Washington, DC 20010 Directions →

Walking on Air

Just three weeks after undergoing a total knee replacement, Carlota Ocampo of Silver Spring was walking on a treadmill at MedStar National Rehabilitation Hospital.

Called the AlterG Anti-Gravity Treadmill, this isn't your typical piece of exercise equipment. The treadmill's air-pressure technology was developed by NASA in 1992 to enable astronauts to exercise in space. By 2005, it had spread to Olympic gyms and rehab centers, and it has become a valuable tool for patients recovering from lower-extremity injuries, from ankle sprains to hip replacements to spinal surgery.

National Rehabilitation Hospital began using an antigravity treadmill in 2011 and now offers the technology in various outposts of the MedStar network. Anne Arundel Medical Center in Annapolis and Walter Reed National Military Medical Center in Bethesda are the only other area hospitals that have one.

To use the treadmill, a patient wears special shorts that zip into an airtight enclosure surrounding the body from the waist down. Once the machine calibrates, the patient chooses what percentage--20 to 100 percent--of his or her body weight to feel while exercising. The air chamber then inflates around the person's lower body, causing the positive air pressure to lift the patient off the treadmill.

Because patients feel lighter while using the treadmill, they experience less pain and are able to begin exercising much earlier than they would be otherwise. Says Ocampo: "It feels like you're floating on air."

Read all of the 'Saving Lives with Science' pieces about our 2013-2014 Top Hospitals.

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Posted at 10:19 AM/ET, 01/29/2014
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