Defying Gravity

Defying Gravity

Deseret News

Defying gravity
Physical therapy that ’unloads weight’ helps patients work out with minimal pain, exhaustion
By Lois M. Collins

Lorne Redmond, Natalie Williams and Jud Weiler have very different aches and pains. But they’ve all learned that on the road to recovery, gravity is not a friend.

Redmond’s pain stems from a disc ruptured more than a decade ago, followed by a period where he got somewhat better, then new damage from degeneration that left him with so much pain he was literally distraught.

Weiler has an autoimmune disorder related to multiple sclerosis. But instead of affecting his central nervous system, it has attacked his lower legs, leaving them weak and without feeling. That problem has been complicated by the fact that he needed a hip replacement and also developed stenosis in his lower back.

Williams, a professional basketball player, hurt her knee for the umpteenth time while pushing off her right leg to do a layup.

Last week all three were undergoing physical therapy at Hand and Orthopedic Rehabilitation Specialists. But they were all using devices designed to minimize the effects of gravity by "unloading weight," as rehab center co-owner Steve Crandall, a physical therapist board certified in orthopedics, put it.

"You need to get strong enough to hold the weight you’re carrying, or you need to lose it," Crandall said.

Folks who are overweight and out of shape also face complications related to weight and general health such as high blood pressure and diabetes. When they begin to get in shape in a low-impact environment that encourages rather than discourages the effort, they start losing weight and sometimes also don’t need to take as much medication, according to Clawson.

Water is great, he said, for patients with spine injuries. "Most of the people are dealing with the musculoskeletal system, usually with a fracture that necessitates pool therapy. You can use muscles without putting stress into the fracture."

Someone with a spine injury can work in the pool all day long and not hurt the back, Clawson said. And the strengthening can be done in any pool where there’s room to walk. It’s even better, though, with some extra resistance like that created by jets. And as the individual becomes stronger and able to do more, the resistance turns up the intensity of the workout.

At least once a day, Clawson said, he sends a patient to water therapy.

Weiler walks with leg braces, except on the underwater treadmill. In the pool he can work out for a half-hour without pain, but when he walks across the parking lot, the pain returns in minutes. That’s the effect of gravity, Crandall said.

Besides the physical therapy, he does water aerobics three days at week at the Holladay Lions Club, strengthening his back muscles. In the water he’s learned to improve his balance while building his strength, he said. "I don’t hang on to things as much."

Williams works out in the water, too. But that’s not the only way she conquers gravity.

She works out regularly "in an unloaded environment while healing" so she doesn’t lose her quad strength. On a machine called a Newton (remember Isaac Newton and his apple experiment?), she can shed however many pounds her therapist decides through use of a hoist system that takes some of the weight. Wearing a special belt that hooks to the hoist, she walks or runs, pain free, several times a week.

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