In space, the lack of gravity is known to cause a lot of stress to the astronauts’ bones and muscles. Musculoskeletal maintenance in space requires loading the bones and muscles with activities and force levels similar to daily activity on Earth. When on Earth, this musculoskeletal loading occurs during normal activities like walking, standing etc. which enables our leg muscles to support our body weight. Since astronauts are not able to perform such simple activities due to lack of gravity, they suffer from bone loss and muscle atrophy.
To combat this, NASA’s Ames Research Center scientist Robert Whalen devised various workout regimes that included using a loading harness to hold the astronaut’s body in place and working out on a treadmill. This harness used differential air pressure in space to mimic the Earth’s gravity to prevent bone loss and muscle deterioration. It turned out that the loading harness was so uncomfortable that the astronauts seldom used it. But this brilliant solution found its application here on Earth.
Reversing the theory, Whalen proposed anti-gravity treadmills called G-trainers for Earth. A G-trainer did the exact opposite of what the harness did in space. It unloaded weight from the lower part of a person’s body, allowing them to work out with minimum stress. This turned out to be a boon for rehabilitating patients as they re-learned to stand, walk and run without being pulled down by their own weight.
After the patient’s lower body is sealed in an airtight enclosure, the system performs a calibration, adjusting to the person’s size and weight. If a patient desires more unloading—more weightlessness—a button is simply pressed on a touch screen, and the air pressure increases, lifting the body, reducing strain, and further minimizing impact on the legs.
Patients suffering from brain injury, neurological disorders, joint problems like arthritis, athletic injuries have used the G-Trainer to develop and condition their muscles while their bodies are still healing. This NASA-derived technology has been adapted widely by major hospitals, professional athletic teams and universities in the US since 2008. But like every brilliant innovation, this one also comes with a mighty price tag. This affordability factor alone has kept the G-Trainers from becoming a standard of care for rehabilitation.
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