Several years ago, Anthony Napoli, a 63-year-old real-estate broker in San Diego, rented a house to an endurance athlete. The fellow always seemed to be training, yet apparently avoided the aches and pains that normally accompany the rigors of such an intense regimen.
Napoli inquired about his constant — and injury-free — training. The secret, the athlete explained, was quite simple: sports chiropractic. The regular adjustments and treatments his sports chiropractor provided kept his body not just injury-free, but healthy and thriving.
All forms of chiropractic care are based on the idea that the musculoskeletal system — with an emphasis on the spine — and the body’s overall health and function are closely related. Chiropractors perform noninvasive manipulations of the spine, joints and soft tissues with the goal of reducing or eliminating pain, maintaining or improving function, and addressing nervous-system dysfunction.
Although it has its detractors and skeptics, chiropractic care is the nation’s most popular — and most regulated — form of complementary and alternative medicine. A number of studies published in peer-reviewed journals have shown chiropractic to be an effective pain-management strategy; increasingly, health practitioners specializing in other methodologies are working with chiropractors to develop holistic treatment plans.
Sports chiropractic, as the name implies, differentiates itself from traditional chiropractic through its emphasis on human performance. Chiropractors who specialize in this area have specific formal training and field experience in the sports setting.
Inside Sports Chiro
“Every cell, tissue and organ in the body is run by the nervous system,” says Jason Kolber, DC, a sports chiropractor in Phoenix, Ariz. “So if you can boost the coordinating system of the body function to a greater level of efficiency, you effectively increase the expression of the body’s intelligence.”
Kolber, who has worked with more than 50 professional teams and over 500 pro athletes, is referring to the way the brain interprets joint reflexes. By adjusting an ankle joint, for example, a sports chiropractor can improve the proprioceptive input sent back to the brain so the body has a better sense of where the ankle is and what it is doing.
This proprioceptive input is key to getting athletes functioning safely and efficiently, notes Peter Mackay, a sports chiropractor with clinics in San Diego and Carlsbad, Calif. Picture a knot in a calf muscle, for instance. It shoots a noxious stimulus to the brain, alerting it that something is wrong. Combine that signal with an ankle joint that has been altered because of one or more sprains, and the body’s mechanoreceptors start sending false signals to the brain, diminishing movement and restricting affected parts of the musculoskeletal system.
“The brain interprets those messages and reacts accordingly,” Mackay explains. “But if you remove negative input and get everything firing again, the brain will reestablish efficient, explosive motor patterns.”
You don’t have to suffer a sports injury, though, to benefit from seeing a sports chiropractor, says John Downes, DC, former executive director of Life University Sports Science Institute in Marietta, Ga., and a pioneer in the field of sports chiropractic. “Most sports chiropractors are focused on injury prevention,” Downes says, “though some of them focus on rehabilitation and injury management, and a small portion focus on event-only care.”
Back on the Field
Napoli had his reasons for quizzing his tenants about their workout routines. He’s a shortstop for Berry’s Athletic Supply, a team in a local men’s over-60 baseball league. While no one will mistake Napoli for Derek Jeter, he takes his sport and his training seriously. “I still play hard; I still slide and dive for balls,” he says.
Napoli had nagging aches and pains, though, and a knee injury threatened to slow him down. Treatment from a physical therapist didn’t offer much relief, so he decided to give a sports chiropractor a try. The results were surprising: “I went in there barely able to walk and came out upright and ready to play.”
For a growing number of the nation’s physically active and competitive population — the kind who suffer from performance-limiting injuries, back pains, foot sprains, and shoulder and knee strains — sports chiropractic offers an additional way to get them back on the playing field or just keep their athletic progress moving in the right direction.
“Whether it is a CEO, a stay-at-home mom of five or somebody who is going to PGA Tour Qualifying School for the first time, if we can help them achieve a greater level of resiliency, that’s a huge advantage,” says Kolber.
Both athletes and the everyday-active set would prefer to work, play and pursue their fitness activities without unnecessary pain, he notes. When a noninvasive intervention can free us from limiting discomforts and leave us empowered to pursue our full physical potential, everybody wins.