Patients recovering from knee operations are being helped back to sport and exercise through expert rehabilitation at the University of Kent. The anti-gravity treadmill program could help to recover the patient from injury and boost the self-confidence to return back to athletics.

Using space age technology in the Sports Ready clinic at Medway Park, Gillingham, Dr Karen Hambly, an international expert on knee rehabilitation, works with clients who have been given the all clear to start to return to sporting activities but may have concerns about moving from being a patient with an injury to being an athlete again.

In a report titled “Return to running following knee osteochondral repair using an anti-gravity treadmill,” published in the journal Physical Therapy in Sport, Dr. Hambly showed how a progressed graduated return to running using an anti-gravity treadmill. It can help to decrease worries about re-injury and increase self-confidence in being able to run on the injured knee.

The load on individuals’ knee joints can be up to five times more during running than walking. Healthy cartilage which covers the bone surfaces in the knee joint transfers these high loads from the lower leg to the upper leg. The cartilage is unable to heal itself when it is damaged; hence surgical procedures are used to repair the damaged area.

The case report emphasized the journey of a woman (age, 39 years with a left knee femoral cartilage grade 3–4 defect 3 cm2) endurance runner from the end of her post-knee surgery rehabilitation to return to athletics using the anti-gravity treadmill in two months’ time interval.

Self-efficacy was evaluated by the Self-Efficacy for Rehabilitation outcomes scale (SER) and the Knee Self-Efficacy Scale (K-SES). Subjective knee function was evaluated by the Knee injury and Osteoarthritis Outcome Score (KOOS) and International Knee Documentation Committee Subjective Knee Form (IKDC).

The anti-gravity treadmill facilitates walking or running without the full weight of the body and hence decreasing the load on the joints in the lower limbs and bridging the gap between rehabilitation and return to athletics. Air pressure in the treadmill can be adjusted that would reduce patients’ body weight from 100% to 20% and thus reducing the impact and pressure on joints during the run.

The tailored anti-gravity treadmill program not only heals the injury but also restores the individual’s confidence in returning to sports.