NASA-Inspired Treadmill Helps Patients Defy Gravity

Seven months ago – the life Army Sgt. Damon Warren knew and loved – came to a screeching halt when the Humvee he was in rolled down a hill following a roadside bombing at the border of Iraq and Kuwait.

Warren, whose been deployed to Iraq twice since 2005, was thrown from the vehicle and suffered crushing injuries to the left side of his body. Those injuries included a broken femur, fractured ribs and a torn rotator cuff.

“My femur bone was shattered,” Warren told “I started out in a wheelchair because it was sort-of impossible to hold my leg up in the air.”

The injury not only left Warren, 36, confined to using a wheelchair and crutches – it also left him mentally devastated.

“Being active all of my life, especially with my three daughters, to not being able to walk – it upset me a lot,” he said. “Just trying to do things that were simple on a daily basis like taking a bath and getting up by myself – I couldn’t do them.”

After being treated at several facilities and undergoing surgery on his leg, Warren eventually ended up at Peak Physical Therapy and Sports Medicine Center in Plano, Texas where things finally started to look up.

“Putting me on the AlterG was the best thing they could’ve done,” Warren said. “Without it, I don’t think I would be walking the way I am.”

Warren is talking about the AlterG Anti-Gravity Treadmill, which allows users to literally defy gravity.

“It was originally a NASA project to help astronauts avoid bone mass loss and muscle mass loss in space,” Lars Barfod, CEO if AlterG, told “Created by NASA scientist Robert Whalen in the early 1990s, the idea was to create artificial gravity in space so the astronauts could have joint impact in space. At some point, Whalen said ‘I’m going to reverse this by pushing people away from earth by using air pressure.’”

And then in 2005, Whalen’s son Sean, who was enrolled in a graduate program in entrepreneurship at Stanford University, decided to take a closer look at his dad’s invention.

“One of the projects he had to do was simulate the start of a company,” Barfod said. “So he used his dad’s invention. Robert actually had a prototype in his garage.”

After that, Barfod said world-renowned marathon runner Alberto Salazar, who is the coach for the Nike Oregon Project, was brought into the picture.

“He got in it, tried it and said, ‘Build me 10 of these and I will buy them.’”

And the rest is history.

The AlterG received approval by the Food and Drug Administration in 2008, and is now used by Nike professional runners and 80 percent of NBA teams including the L.A. Lakers, the Washington Wizards and the Miami Heat. The NFL, the MLB, professional soccer teams and colleges are also using the product to train and help injured athletes recover at a faster rate.

“It helps them to run without pounding their joints,” Barfod said. “The purpose is to regain normal movement right off the bat.”

In 2006 and 2007, Barfod said the company began to see a lot of interest from medical facilities around the country.

“And that’s when we developed a new product, primarily for physical therapy and rehab.”

How it Works

Think of a typical treadmill with a big inflatable bag around it. To get started, the user puts on a pair of green rubber-like shorts, which create an air tight seal.

“The bag then goes around you and the air pressure inflates the bag,” Barfod said. “The more air pressure from your lower body down, in combination with ambient air pressure, creates buoyancy.”

As a result, a person’s body weight can be very precisely controlled in 1 percent increments from 100 percent of body weight all the way down to using only 20 percent.

“It’s like being in three to four feet of water where you start floating,” he added. “The big difference and the big advantage to water is that you feel completely normal. You feel balanced and normal.”

Warren said he started to see results just two weeks after he began using AlterG.

“I was able to go without a wheelchair and just use my crutches,” he said. “I was able to pick up my leg again and hold it up in the air on my own.”

It took Warren another month before he completely abandoned his crutches for a cane.

“That was a very strong feeling of triumph,” he said. “Everyday my confidence builds a little more. Now I’m running on the AlterG using 70 percent of my body weight. When I started I was using about 30 percent.”

Warren said he will continue to use the AlterG until he can run again, unassisted, on his own two legs.

“I will use AlterG until I’m satisfied – until I can run in the park again – and run with my daughters.”

The treadmill is also beneficial to people suffering from several conditions including traumatic brain injury and Parkinson’s disease. In a 2008 study by researchers at the University of California, San Francisco, 10 patients with Parkinson’s completed a course that focused on balance training. After eight weeks, the number of times the participants fell was down by more than 90 percent.

“Because the air pressure will hold you up and hold you in – there is no fear of falling,” Barfod said. “This product enables patients to keep their body weight up while their legs are burdened by very little. There are no balance issues and no pain.”

Currently, there are about 500 AlterG treadmills in circulation right now. To find out if there’s one near you, go to