Older adults (or even people in their 40s/50s) often have this misconception that “jumping is bad for their knees”. But is it true? And is that always the case?
“But the doctor says so”, some older adults will say. Well, you have to understand two things-
1. Some doctors often dispense such advice even when there is nothing structurally wrong with the knee as they want to cover their bases (or asses if you will). From the short 5-10 min consultation with you, they won't know how well you move, how strong and ready you are, and whether your coordination (both gross and local neuromuscular) is good enough to help you safely do it. Throw in more variables and the idea that jumping introduces more impact, most of them rather err on the side of caution to get you to not jump at all. It does follow their oath of “first, do no harm”, but it may not help much either. That advice is definitely valid if there is any structural issue in the lower body or if the body isn’t ready to jump, though.
2. Past of structural issues, doctors often don’t have the capability and time to properly assess whether your body is ready for jumping. They may know anatomy from cadaver studies but functionally, they may not have as much a movement and conditioning idea unless they work specifically with it, like how sports doctors or orthopedic doctors do. So you have to see where that advice is coming from.
Just like you would not ask legal advice from your plumber, you will probably want to leave exercise queries to experienced and knowledgeable exercise professionals. I do acknowledge that there are doctors who do their due diligence and are knowledgeable in the orthopedic/ sports medicine field such that their advice is valid and helpful, though. So to answer the question of “should I jump?”, I’ll say it depends.
If you have read the post I wrote about squatting and whether it’s bad for your knees, you realize I ask similar questions.
1. Do you have any structural issues that may be made worst by jumping or may cause other issues as you jump more? If yes, you probably want to address those first. Some stuff like a hip or knee that’s due to be replaced is definitely a no-no for jumps.
2. Are you well-conditioned enough for it? You see, jump while it may not be an issue for many young folks, it’s something that many older adults have not done in a long time and may not be physically ready for. This especially applies if there isn’t much lower body strength to begin with. The important component of jumping is not just the taking off, it is the landing. If the body can’t receive the impact well, the force will be directed to structures instead of muscles to cause issues over time.
3. Are you moving well enough? If you can’t squat with good mechanics, chances are your jumping and landing mechanics be off too. Loading dysfunction with either greater force or faster movement is likely a recipe for disaster. So why risk it when the costs likely far outweigh the benefits of jumping? Addressing those movement mechanics issues and giving the body the chance to groove mechanically sound patterns will go a long way in ensuring that you can get the most out of jumps when you’re ready.
If there are no structural issues affected by or affecting the jump; if you move rather well; and if you are pretty well conditioned, jumping as part of your exercise program is probably suitable for you. It’s always good to start easy and progressively work into more challenging jump variations. Soft tissue does need time to strengthen so progressing slowly will allow maximal safety while building you a solid base to work into the harder variations. It is important to note that some older adults may not even progress to full-fledged squat jumps; several factors, anatomy variations, for example, may dictate that certain jump variations are not suitable for certain older adults. One may just stop at hopping variations instead of aiming for advanced jump variations that see greater triple flexion.
Where ready and possible, I do like to include jumps into osteoporosis programs. Jumping is a great way to introduce force through the bones; since osteoblasts (bone cells) get stimulated by load, jumping presents as an easy way to load the bones while offering a good transfer of training into daily life. Catching yourself with your front leg when you trip on something, that is an expression of power and demonstrates the strength and ability to catch yourself (much like how you catch yourself when you land in jumping).
So jump if it’s safe and when you’re ready. Do progress slowly and give your body plenty of time to adapt to the demands we put on it. And do check it out with knowledgeable movement professionals. Jumping does represent power and with great power comes great responsibility, literally. Jump, albeit safely.
Supporting your lifestyle always,