“I’m starting to get a nasty twinge across my kneecap.” I wrote this in a note to my podiatrist Dr. Hoffman and taped it to my left-side orthotic. These days I rarely see Dr. Hoffman in person; most of the time I write a note describing the pain I’m having, attach it to the orthotic, and leave it with the receptionist. A few hours to a day later she calls me and I come and pick it up. Usually he gets it right the first time and there’s no pain for several months. Sometimes I have to bring it back to have it tweaked. The average person doesn’t need to get their orthotics adjusted that often but I exercise eight or nine hours a week and that means that my body is constantly changing.
In “Respect the Feet,” 10/1/2011, I recounted the history of my dealings with Dr. Hoffman. I got orthotics when I was in my late 40’s or early 50’s and started exercising more. Dr. Hoffman would adjust my orthotics by adding pieces of cork to the bottoms. If I started feeling pain, I would tape pieces of cardboard on to see whether it would go away. Sometimes I would get such huge wads of cardboard that he would say, “I don’t see how you can walk on those things.” Keeping the pain away, protecting my ankles, knees, hips, and lower back from inflammation, has allowed me to do harder and harder workouts and to get into the best shape of my life, at the age of 66.
Sometime in 2009 I bought an agility ladder and started doing plyo or jump training. Later that year I started working my way into P90X, which includes jumping jacks and more plyo. In April of 2012 I went to have my orthotics adjusted and instead of adding to them, Dr. Hoffman started filing them down. Somehow my muscles and bones were rebuilding themselves in the direction of greater stability so that I no longer needed as much support from the orthotics. In “My Feet Are Changing!” 4/14/2012, I speculated about possible causes for this improvement – the P90X Legs and Back routine? more protein in my diet? This process has continued, the orthotics are getting thinner and thinner, but I now think that it may be the plyo that is helping.
In the sports medicine community plyo is attracting more attention. A number of studies have shown that sprinting, hopping, and jumping routines can improve bone density in younger people. Even more intriguing is a Danish study in which women ages 20-47 and men ages 20-40 played soccer two or three times per week over a period of several months. These individuals saw improvement not only in bone density but also in muscle strength and balance. It would be interesting to see research on even older adults.
I have to confess that I don’t love doing plyo. Vigorous, explosive movement takes a lot of energy, especially for someone like me who is better at endurance exercise. Plyo isn’t for everyone. People who already have knee, hip, or back injuries should consult a doctor before trying jump training – but for those who can use it, this seems to be a promising, low cost way to maintain bone strength in old age.