Suffering from Lower Back Pain? Unloading Could Be the Cure!

Quick quiz, hotshots: name the second most common cause of disability among American adults. Obesity? Nope. Old age, you say? That’s not it, either.

Did you guess lower back pain?

If so, a gold star for you, kind reader. Hopefully, though, you’re not among the many sufferers of this often-debilitating condition. Aside from being the cause of some 149 million missed workdays a year—and costing the U.S. economy $100-200 billion annually—lower back pain can significantly impact a person’s ability to lead a normal, pain-free life. Even the most basic movements can be limited, saying nothing of some of the more intense exercises and activities many people know and love.


According to a published study measuring the effects of the AlterG Anti-Gravity Treadmill™ in treating disc pathology, it was found that lumbar disc pathology is a major factor in acute lower back pain. That’s because weight-bearing activities create impact and pressure on the discs in one’s back. Depending on the exercise, the actual impact can be two to four times a person’s body weight. And when there’s an injury, the resulting pressure—especially during the initial stages—can be unbearable to the point of preventing normal movement.

Makes sense, right?

But here’s the rub: loading the spine is necessary for maintaining disc health. And though that might seem counterintuitive (especially when it’s loading that’s causing pain in the first place), loading must be used during rehab if there’s any hope of full recovery. That’s why so many physical therapists begin rehabilitation and recovery from lower back injuries by reintroducing loading in precise, tolerable increments.

Now, there are a number of options available lessening body-weight load during exercise. There’s stationary bikes and elliptical trainers, or the use of complicated harness systems. Some regimens rely on the buoyancy effect of water. Each of these methods has proven effective to some degree. Yet, few are as promising as the AlterG Anti-Gravity Treadmill.

Rehab and recover – faster.

In a recent study, for example, an ultramarathon runner suffering from a severe lumbar disc herniation participated in partial body-weight-supported running on the AlterG Anti-Gravity Treadmill (Arch Phys Med Rehab Il Vol 91, May 2010). The ability of physical therapists to control loading in this scenario turned out to be integral to proper healing and an eventual return to activity. Applying body weight the right way, then, was key to the success of this ultramarathon runner’s return to the pavement. In a couple of months, he was back to pre-injury conditioning.

A close look at the current physical therapy landscape will reveal that lower back pain is a prevalent condition, one that’s over-treated, characterized by excessive imaging and medication, unnecessary surgeries, and useless injections that continue to drive up costs for patients and physicians alike. Fortunately, physical therapy is a proven and cost-effective method of treatment. And based on the research we have so far, unweighting using precision tools like the AlterG Anti-Gravity Treadmill is a powerful option for lower-extremity loading forces and improving recovery time.