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PHYSIO: Space age recovery process for striker

23 April 2015

Stephen Elliott at the Fire Fighter's Charity in Penrith

United striker Stephen Elliott has been using a rehabilitation machine with a space age feel for the last fortnight thanks to a very kind offer from the physiotherapists and exercise therapists who work for the Fire Fighter’s Charity at Jubilee House in Eamont Bridge, near Penrith.

Elliott, who signed for the Cumbrians during pre-season last summer, suffered a ruptured Achilles tendon during the 2-1 home victory over Oxford in October and has faced a long recovery process as he battles his way back to full fitness.

The striker, who scored his first goal for the club in the away win at Hartlepool at the beginning of that month, is now a regular at Jubilee House as he takes advantage of their Alter G anti-gravity treadmill.

Chris Hodgson, an exercise therapist with the Fire Fighter's Charity, said: “Our second in command, Simon Savage, runs the Penrith Ladies team and he has links with Carlisle United through their head physio, Neil Dalton.

“He alerted him that we had this machine and that it was there for him to use with his players, if ever he needed it. I think the nearest treadmill of it’s kind is with Bolton, and with some of the Premier League teams in the north east, so it’s ideal for it to be literally on the doorstep for him.”

The Alter G treadmill works by creating a vacuum around the lower body area for the patient, once he or she is positioned inside an airtight seal, and can be used to aid mobility with up to an 80% reduction of the patient’s bodyweight coming into contact with the treadmill surface. 

“It was a system developed by NASA,” Hodgson explained. “They wanted to find a way of testing their astronauts in zero gravity environments, so they could see how they reacted and get used to how they would need to move in space. 

“From that, people very quickly started to realise it could be help with things like rehabilitation and mobility training, and it has become extremely useful in that field.”

“We took delivery of the machine in January and we started using it in February,” he added. “It’s a fantastic piece of equipment for any rehabilitation centre to have. We applied for funding through a government scheme to help us to make the purchase and it’s been an excellent addition to the centre. In terms of recovery, it’s made a really big difference to a wide range of people. 

“We’ve been able to use it for people in wheelchairs, MS sufferers, stroke patients and those with leg and hip injuries, from adductor tears to ACL reconstructions and hip replacements. The age range has been from 16 all the way up to a man who was 89, and he hadn’t walked for almost five years until we got him onto the machine.” 

Explaining more on how it works, he said: “The weight control button on the main control panel allows the user to adjust the impact on their lower limbs and, for those in the early stages of rehab, it can often feel like they’re walking on the moon. That obviously reduces the amount of impact on the injured area as they go through their range of exercises.

“What you can find when you pick up an injury is that you can become immobile fairly quickly. Naturally you want to reduce the amount of pain you feel, so the work you do on the injured area decreases. You lose the ability to walk properly in some cases and, when you do get up and about, you find it’s with a limp or that your movement patterns have changed.  

“This type of machine takes that away and allows the patient to move freely, but without the danger of affecting or impacting on the existing injury.” 

“With Stephen [Elliott] we hope it will reduce his recovery time. With an Achilles rupture you find the last thing you get back as you recover is the explosive impact you need to push off, particularly as an athlete. The strengthening around the ankle and calf muscles will develop relatively quickly, but the explosive element is the last thing to come. 

“The reason for that is because you can’t mimic the action, particularly when you consider it’s the whole body weight which is being propelled by the ankle joint and the Achilles when a footballer sets off, turns or starts to run. These sessions are designed to take him from working at -80% of his bodyweight and onwards until he is back at a point where he can do everything, as normal, at 100%.”

United physio Neil Dalton said: “The use of this machine means we have been able to get Stephen running six to eight weeks earlier than we could have had him running outside.

“That’s significant for someone with a long term injury. He has felt the benefit in the short period he has used it so far and we would like to thank the Fire Fighter’s Charity for allowing us to use their facility. Hopefully it’s a partnership which will continue to develop as we go forward from here.”

And the new method of training has received a big thumbs up from its latest Brunton Park recruit.

“The staff down here have been fantastic with me and using the machine has been superb,” Elliott said. “It’s given me a base to start running again and it has sped up the process of getting the range of movements back I’m going to need further down the line.

“Psychologically it’s been excellent for me because you can’t beat running. It’s felt like a long road and doing this makes it feel like I’m actually achieving something. My aim has always been to get back and get playing again and this helps with focusing on where it is I want to get to.”

We’ll have more on the official website from Stephen Elliott later today where he talks about the frustration of being injured and his determination to get back onto the field of play.

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