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“That’s Not What My Old Chiropractor Does.” How Sports Chiropractors Are Not Just For Athletes!

Updated: Oct 21, 2021

Recently, I watched a video that a friend and colleague made about what makes chiropractors who specialize in sports medicine different from every other chiropractor. I realized that I was getting a lot of the same questions from my patients that he was getting from his. The most common question, “Why should I come to a sports medicine chiropractor? I’m not an athlete.”

Everyone knows that there are different kinds of medical doctors who specialize in different fields. Cardiologists are experts on the heart and blood vessels. Neurologists focus on the brain and nervous system. If you ask most people, they would probably say that chiropractors treat back and neck pain and they’d be right. But the chiropractic profession, like any other, has grown so much over the years, and most of the world hasn’t caught on to that fact yet. Chiropractors have begun to specialize as well, and the specialty of chiropractic sports medicine is getting a lot of attention.

Many chiropractors (like me and the amazing doctors you’ll find at Cumberland Chiropractic and Sports Medicine… #ShamelessPlug) are now building “sports medicine” style practices. Does that mean all they do is treat athletes, and you only find them on the sidelines or in CrossFit gyms? The answer is no! Sports medicine clinics are for EVERYONE, athletes and non-athletes alike. Stealing a quote from a colleague, “Our clinic is a family practice with a sports medicine feel, for the athlete and their family.”

“Well then Dr. Cervone, what makes you different from the last chiropractor I saw?” Glad you asked!

When I describe myself as a sports chiropractor to anyone, there are 3 main points that I explain that differentiate a sports chiropractor from what the average person thinks a chiropractor might do.

  • We have Elite Assessment and Treatment Skills.

  • We spend More Time With Our Patients.

  • We empower the patient to Take Back Control of their health.

The Sports Chiropractic Toolbox is filled with goodies.

Sports chiropractors have undergone hours of extra training in addition to their chiropractic education to become experts at assessing every aspect of a patient’s condition. We carry around a very large toolbox full of different techniques and assessments to find the exact cause of the problem we want to treat. The McKenzie Method of Diagnosis and Therapy (MDT), Dynamic Neuromuscular Stabilization (DNS), Selective Functional Movement Assessment (SFMA), and specific joint and muscle motion palpation are like our laser level, tape measure, and calipers. These tools help us assess specific problems with movement or stability in the body that can be contributing to pain, stiffness, and decreased athletic performance in athletes. They can also help us assess those same problems in the non-athlete, like if your hip hurts when you get up from a chair or your neck aches while reading at night! They help us find problems and formulate a plan on how to fix them. Sports chiropractors are experts at using their eyes and hands to see and feel these problems with movement and stability in the body.

For an explanation of my favorite assessment strategy (and treatment sometimes) Dynamic Neuromuscular Stabilization, watch the following video!

Assessment is only part of the battle. To win this war, a good sports chiropractor needs to be able to treat those problems quickly and effectively as well! Active Release Technique (ART), Graston Therapy, chiropractic adjustments, dry needling, cupping, functional rehabilitation, and kinesiotaping are the hammers, chisels and duct tape that allow us to fix these problems better and faster. Being skilled with one’s hands is something that is lacking in today’s conservative healthcare market as more and more passive therapies and machines are being invented to do the work for us. Sports chiropractors are dedicated to being experts with our hands and using our skills to fix your problems as quickly and effectively as possible and KEEP them fixed.

Organizations like the Motion Palpation Institute (MPI) are teaching chiropractors how to take all of these different assessments and treatment tools, and combine them into to give a patient an individualized assessment and treatment specific to their particular problem. Sports chiropractors are eliminating the cookie-cutter treatments that may or may not work if you don’t fit the mold!

We are NOT just “Cracking necks and cashing checks!”

How many clichés can you think of that have to do with good things taking more time? There’s so many out there, but it’s because there’s some truth to it. Appointments with sports chiropractors do take more time because these assessments and treatments that make our treatment great do take more time, plain and simple. More time spent on a detailed assessment means we’re treating the problems that need treatment and not the compensatory problems that arise from that underlying condition. Think of it like consoling a victim of bullying and making them feel better, just to have them go back to school and be bullied again. There is a never-ending loop of consoling the victim, the victim feeling better; the victim is bullied again and now feeling worse and now needs consoling again. If you focus your attention on the bully, you can break that cycle and the victim no longer needs consoling and can get back to their life!

Once the underlying problem is found with a detailed assessment, the treatment that is done to fix that problem does take time as well. Specific and picky treatment leads to better and lasting results, less soreness/discomfort between treatments, and overall fewer visits to get the problem fixed.

In our office, a first visit is scheduled for 45 minutes to allow us to get a proper medical history, apply our detailed assessment to find all of the problems that need to be addressed and to begin treatment to fix the problems. A second visit is scheduled for 30 minutes so we can assess a patient’s response to treatment, make changes to treatment strategies if needed, and begin another round of treatment. Every follow-up visit from there is a MINIMUM of 15 minutes. Every patient is unique and every problem is different. That requires specific treatment for the person and the problem, and that takes time, but this individualized treatment plan ensures we can you better, faster!

We are also trying to get to know you as a person as well! We are not just cold robots here to apply treatments and send you home. We are people too and want to establish a good relationship with our patients. A 2019 article from The New York Times detailed the importance of the doctor-patient relationship, citing multiple research studies that showed patients had better outcomes when they had a doctor who was “warm and competent, calling patients by name, smiling, chatting and making eye contact.” Spending an extra few minutes at each appointment getting to know you personally and establishing a good relationship is part of your treatment believe it or not! You can read the full NYT article in the following link.

We want YOU to be in control of your health.

One of the most frustrating things patients and athletes complain about to me is that they feel like they aren’t in control of their bodies and health anymore. A baseball player may not be able to throw as hard or hit as far as he is used to and feels like his body is “quitting on me.” A mother of 3 may not be able to pick up her children anymore because her back hurts so badly. To me, BOTH of these people are athletes performing athletic activities in their own way, and a sports chiropractor can help them get control of their bodies again and be involved in their care. With the detailed assessment, we can tell a patient which muscles are too tight, which are too weak, what joints need more mobility or stability, and what activities could make their condition better or worse. We can teach patients specific exercises, stretches, and lifestyle changes that they can do on their own to help speed up their recovery and then prevent injuries from occurring after treatment is done. If the injury the patient was dealing with happens again, the patient has a few tools they can try on their own first before coming back to the office. Having a sense of control of your health empowers you to make health-conscious decisions on your own without feeling the need to run into our office every time a question comes up.

How does all of this work in real life?

Picture this scenario. A woman comes into my office with low back pain that has been getting progressively worse over the past 6 months. While taking a detailed medical history, she explains that she has given birth to 2 children in the past, 1 naturally and 1 via C-section and the pain started about a year after her C-section. She also says she has a lot of pain when she squats down and picks up her kids. I start the assessment by using orthopedic testing and a thorough physical exam to rule out serious conditions like fractures, muscle tears, blood or nervous system disorders, etc. I move on to the functional assessment, watching her perform different movements like walking, squatting, ascending and descending stairs to figure out what is happening during these movements that may cause her pain. I notice that as she squats down, her lower back arches back a lot more than it should and her knees buckle in a little. While climbing stairs, her hips move up and down excessively too. I feel her low back and hip flexor muscles and feel a lot of muscle tension, and she says they are tender to touch. I carefully assess her spinal joints and hip joints, feeling certain joints that don’t move enough in her pelvis, and certain joints that move a little too much in her hips and lower back.

Turns out, this poor woman has lost a lot of her lumbar spine and pelvis stability, more than likely due to the traumas of giving birth! Her lower back muscles and hip flexor muscles are overworking to stabilize things because her core stability was compromised with the c-section surgery and her pelvic floor muscles have never quite recovered from her natural birth. The overworking and tightness of the low back muscles and hip flexor muscles are putting certain joints in her lumbar spine under stress, which is causing them to move too much and become inflamed and painful!

So how do I fix her? Adjust her painful low back? We know now her low back joints are moving TOO MUCH, and performing an adjustment there would just cause them to move more, feeding into that painful cycle. Her low back is the “victim” in his case. Relaxing the low back muscles and hip flexor muscles that are too tight will take the stress off of those painful joints and reduce the painful muscle tension. We’ve consoled the victim. Now time to confront the bully. To ensure the newly relaxed joints and muscles stay that way, we must reestablish her core and pelvic floor muscle stability, as well as perform an adjustment on the joints that aren’t moving so well so that she can share motion throughout the spine and pelvic effectively. Now the results of the treatment in her painful areas are lasting longer and not coming back as strong. Throughout her treatment plan, she becomes stronger, more flexible, and can perform normal daily activities again.

But she doesn’t ever want to have this happen again. This was a wakeup call, and she wants to be proactive about her health now. The same exercises that were part of her treatment to get her out of pain are now exercises she can perform at home or the gym to continue to gain more strength by adding resistance bands or weight! Now her abdominal muscles tone as she develops more core stability. She changes to an anti-inflammatory diet to reduce the amount of inflammation that can occur in her body. She feels a mild pain in her low back one day that reminds her of that original pain, but she performs her exercises and stretches, takes a day to rest, and it goes away on its own. She was taken back control of her health!

My goal when treating any patient, athlete or non-athlete, is to:

  1. Accurately diagnose ALL of the problems

  2. Effectively fix those problems with treatments that scientific evidence proves is effective for those particular conditions.

  3. Improve patient performance for their particular “athletic activity,” be it throwing a ball, running faster, playing with their children, or working at their desk!

  4. Give the patient control of their own health again by teaching them lifestyle changes, dietary changes, improved biomechanics/posture, and specific rehab exercises to maintain their health and keep their problems gone for good!

In the end, I am just a coach teaching my “athletes” the skills they need to go out and perform their best!  It is up to the athlete to do the work and achieve their goals!


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