Staying in the game with Chiropractic
Updated: May 31
Why pro athletes choose Chiropractic
Our bodies were designed to move and that’s why for many of us we are at our happiest while engaging in our sport of choice. For me it is skiing, hiking in the wilderness and anything in or on the water. Previously I lived for my rugby and it was a sad day when I was forced to hang up my boots due to injury. If only I’d had a good chiropractor in those days!
It doesn’t matter whether you are a weekend warrior, training for your first marathon, or chasing your dream of becoming a pro, we all know that there are times when we become more prone to injury. That’s why every athlete should have a sensible plan, a strategy for building resilience. And the beauty of this approach is that there is also the added bonus in that you will see improved performance.
So why Chiropractic?
Chiropractic is a non-invasive, drug-free system of healthcare that addresses dysfunction and provides relief from a variety of musculoskeletal issues. Athletes of course are often subject to musculoskeletal issues and can benefit enormously from chiropractic adjustments both before and after training or competition.
In America, the birthplace of chiropractic, this has been recognized for years and 90 percent of professional and elite athletes use chiropractic care to improve performance and reduce the risk of injury. Indeed, every NFL team and most MLB teams have chiropractors on staff.
A trained chiropractic sports physician will focus on optimizing not only the function of the athlete’s musculoskeletal system, but also their nervous system. Their specialized training allows them to focus on improving strength, balance, flexibility, and reaction time, whilst increasing resilience to injury, allowing the athlete to train harder, perform at a higher level and ultimately improve their win-rate. Also it will improve their ability to bounce back after injury.
Let’s dig a bit deeper and understand why so many sports enthusiasts choose Chiropractic.
Here’s my top eight reasons why chiropractic is essential for athletes (and one added bonus at the end).
1. Improved flexibility and range of motion.
Athletes put an enormous amount of pressure on their bodies with intensive training and competition inevitably resulting in stiff, achy joints. Sports chiropractors understand the entire kinetic chain of body movement and know how to locate areas of restriction that may be interfering with fluid body movement. Biomechanics are so fundamentally important that just a minor change in body position can create abnormal movement patterns and dysfunction.
As movement patterns become suboptimal and correct alignment becomes increasingly compromised, this leads to more problems downstream, affecting overall athletic performance. Chiropractic adjustments correct both alignment and range of motion, restoring freedom of movement, allowing your body to recover faster and help you prevent future injuries.
Stretching isn’t enough – Few athletes actually do sufficient stretching (pre & post workout), and even for those that do, it may not be enough. Standard ‘long lever’ stretches tend to be more global rather than focussed. Taking for example a low back stretch, when you stretch out this area you tend to stretch the whole region rather than focussing it on the one dysfunctional joint that is attracting inflammation and the ‘fibrosis of repair’ (scar tissue). If you keep repeating this, while the good joints will move more and more, this will ultimately cause the stiff joint to move less and less! This will not restore optimal function and will hasten degenerative changes that could eventually take you out of the game.
Focussed chiropractic adjustments isolate the affected joints, restoring function and helping to undo the damage, thus preventing a gradual deterioration, all while promoting unrestricted pain-free movement.
2. Reduced Risk of Injury
Injuries are one of the greatest risks when participating in many physical sports and can be a major setback leading to frustration and loss of healthy momentum. All that training and you literally feel yourself slipping backwards daily. This is perhaps the biggest reason discerning, successful athletes, both pro and amateur, choose chiropractic as a system of care, as the focussed ‘prehab’ improves balance and flexibility, helping reduce the risk of sprains, strains, and other sports injuries. When finding that extra 5% means the difference between winning and losing, chiropractic really can give you that edge.
The author adjusting Ray Lewis, one of the greatest defensive NFL players of all time. “Man I love chiropractic” Ray said to me on our first meeting. “You have no idea what my body has been through. You guys kept me in the game”
3. Chiropractic care can assist in injury repair
While you are less likely to sustain injury whilst under regular chiropractic care it is obviously impossible to eliminate the risk entirely. Whatever your chosen sport, your body will be more prone to certain injuries. Weightlifters are prone to back and shoulder injuries, whereas sprinters are more likely to pull or tear muscles in their legs. Whatever the concern you need to get back in the game quickly. Chiropractic can help greatly.
Adjusting fixated joint segments will restore movement patterns and turn off muscle spasm whilst preventing scar tissue and adhesions from causing permanent change, whilst soft tissue work improves muscle tone and restores blood flow to injured areas. Most importantly, chiropractors are highly trained in the understanding of injury and repair as well as the physiological response to movement patterns, good and bad. They can advise on optimal care options to safely return the athlete to his or her sport.
4. Reduces pain levels
Most people suffer from back pain at some stage in their lives and this applies just as much to athletes, especially if for much of the week they are desk-bound. This inevitably causes deconditioning and postural changes, and nowadays, whether it be low back, thoracic, or neck & shoulder pain, spinal problems have become endemic in society. A chiropractor is highly trained to work with painful, stiff spines, freeing up joints that are stuck, promoting proper alignment and movement. Therefore, in addition to restoring function, chiropractors can recommend care that will reduce all types of back pain both in the short-term and for the long run.
More and more research confirms spinal manipulation as a highly effective form of pain relief. The National Centre for Complementary and Integrative Health (NIH) stated that “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.”
5. Improved Alignment means Boosted Performance
You don’t have to be a master of sports science to intuitively understand why structural alignment matters so much. For peak performance, we must be well balanced with ligament/tendon stability and our muscles and bones operating as efficiently as possible. This requires that every joint be aligned properly and moving freely. Your chiropractor will help you optimize the functionality of your entire structure. The result is a winning formula for not only a speedy recovery, but for actual measurable athletic improvements when it comes to performance. Routine chiropractic adjustments address any restrictions in movement and this naturally translates into better results as improved movement patterns allow you to build greater strength and flexibility.
6. Increased Strength
Few people know this simple truth, but it is a recognised reflex that when one muscle contracts it automatically inhibits the activity of the opposing muscle. ‘Reciprocal inhibition’ prevents muscles from working against each other when external loads are encountered. So yes, this does mean that for everyone with tightness (muscle contraction), due for example to poor posture or alignment, there will be actual inhibition of other adjacent muscles, ultimately causing loss of strength and imbalances. This has enormous implications for people who take their sport seriously. In a famous study published in the January 2012 issue of the Journal of Manipulative and Physiologic Therapeutics, elite national judo competitors were tested for grip strength before and after chiropractic adjustments. The results were a huge wake-up call for athletes all over the world. Their grip strength improved significantly, actually up to 17% following cervical or neck manipulation. Obviously, for a high level Judo athlete, that’s a huge advantage in a sport where grip strength can make the difference between winning or losing.
7. Improved Coordination
Proprioception refers to your body’s sense of positional awareness, allowing your body to maintain balance whilst undertaking any number of movement patterns. This is essential for all sportspersons no matter the discipline.
Nerve endings, known as mechanoreceptors, in all your joints and especially your spine, constantly send feedback to the brain and are the key to the coordinated controlling of your entire body. Maintaining optimal movement patterns are vital for energetic sport. Many of these nerve endings are towards the end of normal range of motion (ROM) as part of the protective mechanisms, so by maintaining full ROM in all our spinal joints we greatly improve our balance and coordination.
There is an expression “Nerves that fire together wire together”, meaning that due to the process of ‘neuroplasticity’, our body becomes more efficient at any movement pattern, good or bad. You’ve heard of the expression “use it or lose it”, well this applies very much to the human body in all respects, especially to our balancing reflexes,
Chiropractic care, by maintaining optimum function of the joints, helps improve proprioception, keeping you well balanced and coordinated, and this will translate into greater performance in terms of speed, strength and agility.
8. Less medication used by sportspersons receiving chiropractic care
Aches and pains are inevitable with most sports but it’s how you deal with these that is important. While many resort to pain relievers, anti-inflammatories or cortisone shots in search of short-term relief, chiropractic care protocols give athletes a 100% natural, safe and drug-free alternative that, whilst being non-invasive, is highly effective in reducing, or even eliminating, their pain. The body is improving more quickly and there is less chance of causing more damage through working joints that have been numbed by medication, or from developing a dependency. Too many athletes develop addictions to pain killers. In fact, the American College of Physicians now recommends that back pain sufferers try complementary and alternative medicine techniques including spinal manipulation BEFORE resorting to prescription medication.
Bonus - Chiropractic supports the athlete as a whole and leads to Optimum Wellness
Chiropractors are highly trained in all the ‘Pillars of Health’ and will help the athlete focus on body awareness, health, and optimal function all year. He or she will advise on diet and nutrition, strategies for reducing stress and improving sleep. Creating life-long healthy habits will be central to achieving a ‘better life by design’, whilst maintaining correct structural alignment and movement patterns allow a higher level of performance in all aspects of life.
Curious about Chiropractic?
Basically, as an athlete you want to stay in the game as long as possible. ‘You are a long time retired’ as the saying goes and I still mourn the day I had to retire from rugby. So, if you want to maintain comfortable range of motion, physical strength and resilience against injury, or you want to recover from an injury without resorting to drugs or more invasive approaches, then perhaps you should give chiropractic a try. Those who truly understand this system of functional optimization will use chiropractic on a regular basis. Even those who ‘feel fine’ will usually notice surprising benefits in terms of how they perform and how they feel when their body is aligned and moving freely!