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Ask the Doctor.....‘Is it ever possible to actually increase your sports performance as you age?

By Dr. Lou Pack | 3/21/2014, 2:25 p.m.

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By Dr. Lou Pack

Although we can’t stop the actual aging process, and there are obviously parts of us that don’t work as well as they used to, that doesn’t mean that we still can’t perform better in sports as we age. One of the fastest and most powerful ways to do that is usually the most often overlooked, and that’s to increase one’s balance and stability through structural analysis.

We’re all born with structural imperfections that many of us seem to “get away with” until we age. Fixing these abnormalities can at times, partially compensate for the aging process. Just ask javelin thrower Roald Bradstock, who at almost 50 years-old, became the oldest man ever to compete in his event in the Olympic Trials, or ask any of the senior golfers and tennis players we’ve been privileged to work with.

The key is to find the structural abnormalities we all have and not just negate them, but to optimize alignment. For example, everyone has one leg longer than the other. This means that a right handed golfer or tennis player will have a much harder time getting through their swing if they have a longer left leg and a much harder time bringing their club or racket back with a longer right leg. If you’ve been playing sports like this for 40 years, your swing has always been restricted. Now with age, you can’t compensate as easily. But often by putting a lift in your shoe on the shorter side, you may be able to rotate easier than you could when you were 20 years old! But please note, this needs to be done accurately and by a qualified medical individual or you may actually create problems.

Accurately correcting a flattened (pronated) foot and eliminating tight muscles (especially one’s calves) are also important. Such structural problems can not only cost you in terms of performance, but can increase injuries. Not all the soreness we get as we age is due to arthritis. The reason many top golf pros need an entourage of physical therapists and massage specialists is not because they’re repeatedly swinging a golf club, but because they’re swinging it in poor alignment.

The longer your foot is on the ground the slower you run. By decreasing that time, a precisely made custom foot orthotic can therefore actually increase your speed, at times, despite your age. If you are a right handed tennis player with a longer right leg, you will have more of tendency to hit down on the ball on your forehand shots.

If you wish to be the very best you can be and enjoy being active, but would like to do so without some of the aches and pains that accompanies aging, (and perhaps even increase your sports performance), you may want to consider having a structural analysis. Fixing the bent frame we all have is a much better starting point than buying a new driver or tennis racket!

A former reconstructive foot and ankle surgeon, past Clinical Instructor of Medicine at Emory, and Fellow of the American College of Rheumatology, Dr. Pack practices in Greensboro and Atlanta. He treats athletes at all levels and works with patients who have arthritis and want to remain active. In the 2004 Olympics he had a silver and gold medalist, and helped the UGA Golf Team (2005 NCCA National Champions). For further information please contact him directly at 706-454-0040, dr.loupack@mindspring.com or see www.drloupack.com. His new book, The Arthritis Revolution, Latest Research on Staying Active without Pain Medication or Surgery, is available on LuLu.com or Amazon.com.