The story doesn’t compare the new gee-whiz technology to alternatives, such as exercising in a swimming pool – leading oneline news reader to comment, “You can do the same thing in any swimming pool and get a better workout.” The story misrepresents the available research evidence. It is vague about benefits and silent about potential harms. It mentions cost, but not in a way that is useful to readers. The story invokes the NASA-linked origins of the concept underlying the Alter-G device, but it is like a report that extols the wonders of Tang without acknowledging the existence of orange juice.
At some point, almost everyone has had or will have physical therapy or athletic training. Stories about these topics have a responsibility to tell readers about the evidence underpinning claims of health benefits and about alternative techniques for achieving health outcomes.
Although the story does report that this special treadmill costs $25,000, that information is not very helpful to readers who aren’t likely to be shopping to buy a unit. The story should have reported the typical cost of a therapy session and a typical number of sessions that patients require; as well as whether the cost of using this device is generally covered by health care insurance plans.
The story quotes one user calling the device “miraculous.” A trainer says the device “lets people walk with a normal gait so they don’t develop bad habits that lead to other orthopedic problems,” but without offering any evidence that users of the device far any better than those who rely on other rehabilitation techniques. The thrust of the story is that this weight-supporting treadmill speeds recovery, but nowhere does the story actually say what special benefit users get from this device. How much faster do they recover compared to alternatives? Do they walk or run better than if they had used a different device or technique? Readers are fed glowing, but anecdotal, praise for the device, while these and other important questions are left unanswered.
The story does not address potential harms, including the potential harm of diverting patients from rehabilitation programs that have a more extensive base of supporting evidence and experience.
The premise of the story is that this weight-supporting treadmill helps people recover from injuries, surgery and other walking and running problems. Although the story reports that “it’s rooted in science,” the research touted by the company does not actually address the question of whether this device works any better than (or even as well as) alternative rehabilitation techniques. A few anecdotal reports are offered, but no trials comparing this device to exercising in a swimming pool or using other methods to reduce weight load or impact during recovery. The company includes a long list of clinical reports on its web site, but almost all of them merely measure the biomechanical forces on users, not whether the device offers any advantages in terms of healing or function. While people quoted in the story said they felt better during the sessions, there is nothing to indicate they derived lasting health benefits. Also, some of the summaries of the research offered by the device maker appear to overstate the results. For example, the company describes review articles that “validate the AlterG as a highly effective rehabilitative modality in a wide variety of clinical settings,” but the review article cited just includes a picture of the AlterG treadmill as one example of available rehabilitation devices. Swimming pool exercise is the first option highlighted in this article, which does not refer to the AlterG device in the text.
AlterG Clinical Research Update:
Rehabilitation review cited by AlterG:
Wilk, Kevin E., Macrina, Leonard C., and Reinold, Michael M.; Rehabilitation Following Microfracture of the Knee. Cartilage 1(2): 96-107, 2010.
The story fails to tell readers about ties between the people quoted in the story and the company that sells the device. For example, trainer Valerie Gluth has coordinated her physical therapy company’s marketing with Alter-G. Elite distance runner Shannon Rowbury appears in Alter-G marketing materials and has received free use of the device.
Joint news release from Alter-G and Valerie Gluth:
Alter-G marketing brochure featuring Shannon Rowbury:
Shannon Rowbury blog post citing free access to Alter-G device:
The story fails to tell readers about any of the alternative ways to partially support body weight during rehabilitation, such as exercising in a swimming pool or running on treadmills or other devices that use harnesses or other methods to partially support a person’s weight.
The story notes that this weight-supporting treadmill is available at a limited number of rehabilitation and physical therapy centers. But the story did allow one true believer to end the piece saying, “I think they’re going to be everywhere…”
There is nothing new about partial weight support during rehabilitation. This story fails to put this particular treadmill device in context with other methods of reducing weight load and impact, such as treadmills that use harnesses or other methods to carry some of a person’s weight.
Not applicable, for the following reasons. There is no independent source, so it’s plausible that the story was spoonfed by a news release. But since we don’t have any direct evidence of a news release influencing the story, we can’t rule it unsatisfactory.