Originally Posted Online: March 18, 2013, 9:42 am
Last Updated: March 18, 2013, 11:35 pm

Healing waters: New, high-tech treadmill aids physical therapy

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By Laura Anderson Shaw, landerson@qconline.com

More photos from this shoot
Photo: Gary Krambeck
Genesis physical therapist Scott Dickman, left, provides assistance for Addy Kling, of Donahue, Iowa, with an underwater treadmill exercise at Genesis' new Physical Therapy and Sports Medicine Center in Davenport.
More photos from this shoot
Photo: Gary Krambeck
Genesis Health System Outpatient Rehabilitation Services Director Doug Boleyn stands on the simulated pitcher's mound in the large sports medicine area of the Physical Therapy and Sports Medicine Center in Davenport.

Addy Kling was working hard on a treadmill one recent afternoon at the new Genesis Physical Therapy and Sports Medicine facility.

But it wasn't a typical treadmill -- this one was under water.

With physical therapist Scott Dickman nearby, the Donahue, Iowa, woman worked in chest-deep water, watching a screen in front of her that projected what her body was doing from about the hips down.

Because of the body's buoyancy in water, working on the underwater treadmill eliminates between 20 and 90 percent of a person's body weight, according to genesishealth.com.

Physical therapist and clinic manager Kathryn Ellsworth said Genesis Physical Therapy and Sports Medicine treats a number of patients with running injuries such as knee, ankle or hip injuries, and the underwater treadmill is especially good for that.

For instance, one of her patients is recovering from shin splints. Ms. Ellsworth cannot put her on a regular treadmill because it's painful, she said, so "we get her in here."

Patients with lower back issues also could make great candidates for the underwater treadmill.If walking on land aggravates the back muscles, physical therapists will work with the patient in the buoyancy of the water until they may transition to walking more on land, Ms. Ellsworth said.

Before the underwater treadmill technology at the Genesis Physical Therapy and Sports Medicine facility, which opened at 1702 E. 53rd St., Davenport, in February, Ms. Ellsworth said "we've always treated the runner" with stretches on the padded physical therapy tables and the like. But now?

"Boom. (We can put the patient) right on a treadmill. It's so much smoother of a transition back to activity (on land)."

The treadmill rests seamlessly in the bottom of a pool that is generally 4 feet 6 inches deep. The water can be adjusted by 10 inches in just two minutes, though, with the use of reserves, Ms. Ellsworth said.

Jets in the pool provide resistance, Ms. Ellsworth said, adding the treadmill goes up to 7.5 miles per hour. Two underwater cameras and two flat-screen viewing monitors help therapists evaluate and diagnose patients, according to Genesis' site.

Swimmers also can use the pool to improve their technique, said Genesis Health System outpatient rehabilitation services director Doug Boleyn. The resistance in the water paired with the small size of the pool allows for a coach to come in and work right beside the swimmer versus keeping up with a swimmer down the length of a pool.

The underwater treadmill is the only of its kind in the area, Ms. Ellsworth said. When plans were being drawn up for the new center, Ms. Ellsworth said she and her colleagues discussed the need for the technology.

It was "an area we lacked for physical therapy options in the Quad-Cities," she said, adding now, the facility has physicians who refer patients specifically for the use of the underwater treadmill.

The 10,500-square-foot facility also houses more traditional physical therapy equipment, too, such as the padded tables, parallel bars and medicine balls typically found in physical therapy centers. But the other half of the facility can morph into whatever physical therapists and patients need it to be -- a track-like straight-away, a basketball or volleyball court and a bullpen, complete with a pitching mound that can be moved to fit the throwing distance and a netted backstop to catch the balls.

The cushioned flooring and high ceiling help therapists replicate the sport the patient was injured in. That way, once therapists are confident the patient is ready to return to their sport, the patient is confident, too, Ms. Ellsworth said.

The facility also houses a "Chill Zone" for athletes and patients to cool down in after a workout.

Ms. Ellsworth said the facility treats a number of orthopedic injuries, including those to the neck and back, knee and hip and more; patients who have had surgery, people looking to return to work or a sport after an injury, and more.

Ms. Ellsworth said the Genesis Physical Therapy and Sports Medicine facility is able to offer its patients more options. For instance, before the underwater treadmill, rather than walking to strengthen muscles or help increase motion, their options were to "rest, or deal with (the) pain."

It's "giving the community another source for health care."

For more information about the Genesis Physical Therapy and Sports Medicine facility, visit genesishealth.com.