I'm back in the game for the London Marathon 2009. I'm an optimist of course and it's far from certain I'll make it (I do, though, have a place). But my recovery strategy seems to be paying off. I've been recovering from twice-tearing my meniscus cartilage in my left knee. It's been a painful and frustrating process that has dragged on 16 months now. As of 5 or 6 weeks ago I hadn't managed to run for a bus let alone string together a few kilometres for all of that time. But things seem to have changed.
Somewhere between more vitamin pills (Arthrolactin, FastFlex and CissusRX), Powerplate training and, my latest attempt, the WiiFit, I'm able to run. Not fast and not far. But I can get round my simple 6.25km loop and even push as far as 10k. The time is terrible - 25-30% slower than I ran before, but versus walking it's a whole lot quicker.
The optimist in me would start to push hard now and see what I can do. The realist is going to take it easy and slowly build up. I have 10 months to see if I can get marathon fit and I'm going to take as much of that time as I need. No point in re-injuring my knee or, worse, injuring something else.
Now, about this WiiFit thing. I've been using it for a few weeks now, since the end of April. At the beginning I was barely able to stand on my left leg, let alone do all of the one leg balance exercises you're supposed to do. After a few days of pretty religious practice, I could hold it together long enough to do the exercises although being told that you're next to useless by some pasty-faced trainer wasn't quite the motivation I was looking for.
But the real advantage is two fold:
1) It forces you to use first one leg than the other. It knows if you don't. And pretty much every exercise, at least on the early ones, involves shifting some weight from one leg to the other
2) It shows you, both as you're doing the exercise and then right after you're done, how well you're performing. It traces your movement - and if you're like me that will be ungainly - and scores you out of 50 on each side (for those exercises that have you using one leg then the other). My left leg scored roughly half my right leg at the beginning. I'm up to about 80% now. It's this instant feedback that makes the difference - right away you know if your leg is weaker or struggling. If you cheat - and put your leg down or quit early - it knows. So as long as you follow the instructions and assuming you're just a little bit competitive - got to beat the last score, got to learn how to do this right - you're onto something.
A few weeks on and I'm out running. Was this just the WiiFit? Not entirely I'm sure, but I think there's a strong connection between the exercise programme and me being able to run. And, I suspect there will be an even stronger connection between this and not injuring myself in the future - balancing the muscles on both sides of the body is important for injury protection.
I think there's a real, serious case here for giving anyone who is undertaking physio for a knee injury/broken ankle etc a WiiFit and a custom programme - that the NHS would design in partnership with Nintendo - for rehabilitation and injury recovery.
Why do this? There are 100,000 knee arthroscopies and 50,000 knee replacements annually in the UK. 1 skier in 2,000 hurts their ACL each year. Factor in squash, tennis, climbing and just walking injuries and the number of people getting physio each year must surely be in the low millions. This is a market that is served only by actual visits to physios - where you have to walk, hobble or stumble somewhere to see someone to get treatment and where there is absolutely zero feedback about whether you're doing your exercises properly between visits - and no way for the physio to tell exactly how much you have done. So this isn't about replacing physio visits, but about making them more productive.
There'd need to be a modification where the results of the programme could be uploaded to the Internet or saved to a memory stick and then reviewed by the physio charged with looking after the patient. There's also plenty I'd change I'd make the whole thing less "Nintendo-y." For instance, I'd introduce custom exercise programmes and the ability to download new ones (set up by your physio perhaps, who has reviewed your results). I'd also have an "advanced user" option that stripped out the menus and the need to keep pressing buttons to get between. I'd build in some logic that cross-compares how you perform on certain exercises - so if you're weak on a certain type, it will work harder on those types and related exercises. I'd look for more variety and subtlety. I'd also have better quality demonstrations of what you need to do coupled with more detailed close-ups for certain exercises.
But, right now, I could see this making a real difference to anyone recovering from a minor injury or operation on their knee, ankle or leg. And even if you're not recovering, the potential to prevent injury by better aligning the muscles on both sides of your body is also there.