Chiropractic care is one of many forms of natural health care, specifically a non-invasive, drug-free alternative that can help patients find relief from a variety of musculoskeletal issues. Athletes in particular, can greatly benefit from chiropractic treatments both before and after they practice and perform.
Professional sports leagues, including Major League Baseball (MLB) and the National Football League (NFL), have recognized these benefits for years. In fact, most professional teams employ their own official sports chiropractor. National University of Health Sciences (NUHS) graduates Marc Legere, Doctor of Chiropractic (DC), and Randy Cybulski, DC, (who himself was an NFL player) have also treated these professional athletes in private practices.
Beyond the United States, athletes from many other parts of the world utilize chiropractic treatment. As Dr. Carlo Guadagno noted:
“At the 2016 Olympics Games, I treated these athletes first-hand. As part of the Olympic Village polyclinic sports medicine staff, I saw a wide variety of treatment needs. Many athletes were referred to us for neck, lower back, and extremity conditions. We helped them achieve their goals by getting them back into play after an injury, or helping them increase their strength and flexibility so they could perform at their optimum level.”
A chiropractic sports physician has the tools and skills necessary to optimize the performance of an individual’s musculoskeletal system, as well as their nervous system. This specialized training allows sports chiropractors to provide therapies that are geared towards maintaining strength and rebounding after an injury. It’s also important to help athletes avoid injuries altogether, or if that’s not possible, to effectively manage the associated pain and healing.
Why Chiropractic Treatments Are Important for Athletes
Here are four important reasons why chiropractic treatment is essential for athletes:
1. Chiropractic treatment leads to improved range of motion.
One of the biggest benefits of regular chiropractic treatments is improved range of motion. Athletes put a lot of pressure on their bodies every time they train, and physically intense activities can create problems with spinal alignment and movement.
Because of this, an athlete can easily end up with stiffness and pain in their joints. Spinal alignment issues may cause their range of motion to be limited, thereby inhibiting their overall athletic performance. Receiving the appropriate chiropractic care can help undo the damage and prevent injuries before they occur, all while promoting movement that’s pain-free.
2. Receiving chiropractic treatment can reduce pain.
Active people, even the strongest athletes, can suffer from back pain, particularly in the lower back. A chiropractor knows exactly how to work with a sensitive spine to promote proper alignment and movement. Therefore, in addition to restoring function, chiropractors can recommend treatments that will reduce all types of back pain both in the short-term and for the long run.
A growing amount of research confirms spinal manipulation as an effective form of pain relief. For example, in studies cited by the National Center for Complementary and Integrative Health (NIH): “participants who received spinal manipulation, personal instruction, and exercises had less pain after 12 weeks and used less medication a year later than participants who received only personal instruction and exercises.”
3. Less prescription drugs are needed for athletes who receive chiropractic treatment.
While aches can be, and often are, treated with pain medications, cortisone shots, and other drugs that provide short-term relief, chiropractic care gives athletes a drug-free alternative that can reduce, or even eliminate, their pain. This also means that athletes won’t be subjected to the side effects or dependencies that commonly arise from the use of prescription medication.
In fact, the widespread dependency on opioids in the United States has prompted the American College of Physicians to update their guidelines regarding low back pain—one of the most common reasons doctors prescribe opioids. The group now suggests those with low back pain use various complementary and alternative medicine techniques including spinal manipulation before resorting to prescription medication.
4. Chiropractic treatment provides a non-invasive treatment option.
Chiropractic care is non-invasive, and it can provide relief from injuries throughout the body, not just neck and back injuries. It may even serve as a viable alternative to invasive procedures such as surgeries that would keep athletes sidelined during a long recovery period. Treatment methods, such as electrical muscle stimulation, functional dry needling, the Graston Technique and the Active Release Technique, can be used to care for athletes suffering from a variety of injuries.
Benefits of Chiropractic Medicine for Athletes
Whether they play in a neighborhood sports league or are elite competitors, an increasing number of athletes rely on chiropractic doctors who specialize in sports injury treatment to get them back in the game.
Traveling sports start at a younger age, which usually means more practices per week and tournaments multiple weekends per month. Tee ball starts by age 4. Travel baseball and football begins by age 8. Kids committing to one sport, also called specializing, is seen by middle school.
According to a study by The American Journal of Sports Medicine, athletes who specialize at a younger age are injured more often. Whether or not you agree with this practice, the fact is, it’s happening all over the country. Chiropractic medicine has a real niche in this environment as well as the knowledge base to treat these kinds of athletes.
Dr. Shelby Plante, a graduate of NUHS' Florida Campus, notes that there are many benefits of applying chiropractic medicine to younger athletes, including:
1. Chiropractic treatments can decrease recovery time.
Normal wear and tear occurs often to a healthy athlete’s body. A baseball pitcher uses a repetitive throwing motion. A volleyball player jumps, repeatedly blocking and hitting. A football player takes multiple body blows during a single game. At some point during a season, usually multiple times, an athlete experiences muscle fatigue and soreness. There are usually only one to two days between practices or games, and at times younger athletes need more than simple rest to get them game-ready.
After a practice or a game, a chiropractic physician may utilize soft tissue techniques such as massage or instrument-assisted soft tissue techniques to make the tissue more moveable and relaxed, decrease lactic acid, and improve blood flow. Physiotherapy equipment such as an ultrasound or cold laser may be utilized to help with areas that have exceptionally high inflammation. An adjustment may be provided to improve joint mobility. Recommendations for rehydrating properly and dietary adjustments to assist with athletic recovery may also be discussed.
Combining these options or others not discussed above, based off of the chiropractic physician’s expertise, will help younger athletes recover and be better-prepared for the next practice or game.
2. Chiropractic treatments can assist in injury repair.
Each sport has body areas that are more prone to injury due to the stress the sport puts on the area. According to the American Orthopedic Society for Sports Medicine, dancers most commonly experience leg injuries, golfers experience arm injuries, lacrosse players experience knee issues and muscular strains—the list of sports injuries go on through each sport.
Once an injury occurs, the athlete and their family often want to return to their sport as quickly as possible. Many of these techniques discussed earlier can be modified by intensity and duration to assist in injury repair.
Adjusting joint segments that are no longer moving can enhance mechanical motion. Soft tissue techniques will improve muscle tone and blood flow to injured areas as well as decrease adhesions or buildup around injured areas. Ultrasound and cold laser, among other therapy options, can significantly reduce inflammation and pain levels felt by the athlete. In addition, Kinesio Taping can provide support and certain taping techniques can assist in blood flow to the injured area.
Most importantly, chiropractic physicians are trained to understand anatomical and physiological response to movement patterns, as well as optimal treatment options. It is imperative that the athlete’s doctor has an intimate understanding of injury repair, as well as the proper guidelines for safely returning the young athlete to his or her sport.
3. Chiropractic treatments can lead to optimal wellness.
Taking care of an athlete’s body should not begin the first day of practice or after the first tournament of the season. Athletes should focus on body awareness, health, and optimal function all year.
A chiropractic physician can assist an athlete in proper diet and nutrition, sleep guidelines, and proper training strategies that should be utilized as a life-long habit. Proper spinal and extremity alignment through adjustments, body mechanic evaluation, and gait analysis can assist with muscular patterns and development that are essential in a developing youth athlete.
By continually keeping an athlete’s body in his or her healthiest form, he or she will train more efficiently and effectively year round.
4. Chiropractic medicine plays a vital role in supporting the athlete as a whole.
With athletes training year round and specializing at a younger age, there should be a team in place to assist the athlete in being the best he or she can be. Although sports for younger athletes do not have a formal medical team established like college or professional sports teams, they should still have a support team that is entrusted with their care.
For example, a trainer helps with muscle development and ligament/tendon stability, while the coach teaches young athletes how to play a sport and develop a love for the game. A chiropractic physician, on the other hand, plays a vital role in facilitating whole body wellness.
Before beginning a sport, the child’s physician should complete a thorough physical exam to ensure the child is healthy enough to participate in the activity. Some states allow the primary care physician to be a chiropractor. Other states have differing guidelines. Check your state for specific requirements.
5. More time and attention from their doctors
Chiropractic doctors typically spend more time with each of their patients than MDs. Chiropractic treatment includes a whole health assessment to ensure there are no underlying issues that may be contributing to an injury, or have the potential to cause future problems. They will continue to evaluate progress with each visit.
NUHS graduate Lindsey Polaskey, DC, says she often sees sports enthusiasts such as gymnasts, runners, crossfit athletes, and baseball players at Impact Sports Rehab and Chiropractic in Oswego, Ill.
“Growing up, I was a gymnast and often dealing with injuries,” recalled Dr. Polaskey. “I saw many orthos and other doctors. They didn’t seem to listen or understand my sport or individual injury. My parents eventually took me to a chiropractor,” she explained. “It was refreshing to have someone take the time to make an individualized plan of care and action.”
Curious about Chiropractic Medicine?
Ultimately, if you’re an athlete who wants to maintain your physical strength and range of motion, or if you want to recover from an injury without the use of prescription drugs and invasive treatments, you may want to consider seeing a chiropractic doctor on a regular basis. You may be surprised by how much better you feel and how much your performance improves when your body is in alignment and pain-free!
If you're interested in learning more about how to become a chiropractor and about chiropractic medicine in general, explore NUHS’ Doctor of Chiropractic Medicine program!