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High-tech treadmill off and running at Mercy Health facility

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    George Lathrop of Ottawa Hills, left, talks with physical therapist Dayna Pirrwitz as he works on his running stride inside the new AlterG Anti-Gravity Treadmill at the Mercy Health Fort Meigs Center in Perrysburg.

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    George Lathrop of Ottawa Hills keeps an eye on his stride while using the new AlterG Anti-Gravity Treadmill at the Mercy Health Fort Meigs Center in Perrysburg.

    THE BLADE/KATIE RAUSCH
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    George Lathrop of Ottawa Hills, left, runs as his Physical Therapist Dayna Pirrwitz checks out his stride as Mr. Lathrop runs inside the new AlterG Anti-Gravity Treadmill Thursday at the Mercy Health Ft. Meigs Center in Perrysburg.

    THE BLADE/KATIE RAUSCH
    Buy This Image

  • treadmill10p-3

    George Lathrop of Ottawa Hills, left, runs as his Physical Therapist Dayna Pirrwitz checks out his stride as Mr. Lathrop runs inside the new AlterG Anti-Gravity Treadmill Thursday at the Mercy Health Ft. Meigs Center in Perrysburg.

    THE BLADE/KATIE RAUSCH
    Buy This Image

Mercy Health Orthopaedics and Sports Medicine on Thursday unveiled the AlterG Anti-Gravity Treadmill, which allows patients to walk and run with reduced pressure on their legs. 

Using technology originally developed by NASA, the treadmill helps patients recovering from injuries or surgeries return to normal movement faster. 

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Runners and walkers wear shorts made of a wetsuitlike material and zip the lower section of their bodies into an air-tight inflated chamber to reduce the amount of weight borne by their legs. Its proponents say it can hasten injury recovery, remove pressure on joints, and help athletes train.

“When NASA developed it, they wanted to get the astronauts used to walking in a low-gravity environment,” said Jeff Swartz, a physical therapist with Mercy Health. “I can take someone down to 20 percent body weight, so it feels like you’re walking on the moon.”

WATCH: Mercy Health physical therapist Jeff Swartz discusses the benefits of new “anti-gravity” treadmills

Mr. Swartz and other staff can monitor patients’ stride and other metrics to determine how they are healing.

“We can get them walking sooner,” Mr. Swartz, said. “Once that athlete is ready to return to running, we can get them running sooner in a safe environment. You can pick up both legs and you’re not going to fall down.”

That was an attractive feature for Lois Spencer, 66, who is recovering from a hip replacement and fracture. 

“It takes the fear away of falling,” she said of its use in her rehabilitation. Mrs. Spencer has graduated from using a walker to a cane since her January surgery.

“When I get off that machine I am able to turn around without hanging on to anything ... and walk from the machine,” the Perrysburg woman said. “I just don’t have any fear right at that moment.”

Health system officials say the treadmills are the first in the area available to the public. Mercy Health orthopedic surgeon Dr. Richard Miller praised the device’s ability to help patients in recovery.

“It allows a patient who has a sizable limp after surgery...to use the [anti-gravity] technology so that they can retrain their muscles for a normal gait,” he said. 

Mercy Health Toledo Foundation donated funds for the three machines.

The treadmills are available at Mercy Health outpatient rehabilitation and therapy locations in Oregon, Perrysburg, and Toledo. The machines are available to rent when not in use by rehabilitation patients.

Contact Lauren Lindstrom at llindstrom@theblade.com, 419-724-6154, or on Twitter @lelindstrom.

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