Health Check: Anti-gravity treadmill for rehab

Arthur Jackson is being helped onto the AlterG Anti-Gravity Treadmill at the Hallworth House Rehabilitation Center in Providence.

"It was invented at NASA to help potential astronauts get used to less than normal gravity," said Dr. Denman Scott of Hallworth House.

Now it's being used as a rehabilitation device.

"It retrains the muscles and the spinal column, the nerves, so that you walk much more normally," Jackson said.

And this philosophy professor at Providence College is right. A few months ago, Jackson developed an infection that quickly spread throughout his body. He's recovered from that, but it left him weak and unable to walk.

But he saw results after just one session on the treadmill.

"I saw a difference by the next day. I was able to lift my left leg higher off the ground immediately," Jackson said.

This is what happens: The air pressure in a chamber on the treadmill can decrease Arthur's weight by as much as 80 percent. So it makes it easier and less painful for him to strengthen and tone muscles that have atrophied. Gradually, as he builds that endurance, more weight can be added. Jackson's wife, Joan is simply amazed at his progress in the last month.

Then there's Frank Joseph. He's 94.

"Frank came in with, he had fallen down, had some joint pain, a lot of arthritis. So, we've been using it with him in order to increase his endurance but also because you can alter the amount of body percentage that he actually finds it less painful to walk in the AlterG or have no pain," said Erica O'Connell, of Hallworth House.

After a few weeks on the anti-gravity treadmill, his walking has improved.

"I was amazed, to tell you the truth, how I felt after and then while I was doing it I could actually step out and walk the way I normally did," Joseph said.

For both Joseph and Jackson, the goal is to be able to regain the strength to walk on their own again. Jackson is also eager to get back to his teaching job.

Hallworth House Rehabilitation Center in Providence is the only skilled nursing facility in the area that has the anti-gravity treadmill. It is FDA-cleared and many health insurance plans cover it.