What do basketball superstar Michael Jordan, football legend Jerry Rice, famed golfer Tiger Woods and tennis standout Venus Williams all have in common?
It’s not that they are leaders in their respective sports, or that they’ve made millions from their fame over the years. Sure, those things may be true, but it’s also true that these professional athletes have relied on chiropractic care during their athletic careers.
Rice, widely considered one of the best wide receivers in football with a career spanning 20 seasons, attributes much of his success and the longevity of his career to regular visits to his chiropractor. “The game of life,” Rice once said, “requires the edge that chiropractic care provides.”
Chiropractic care has long attracted the attention of professional and amateur athletes, who recognize chiropractic as an effective approach to preventative care and overall wellness.
It’s not just a matter of fixing someone after an injury — chiropractors help keep the body in tune so that injuries are avoided in the first place.
“A lot of what we can do by addressing muscle imbalances and movement patterns means the chances of injury are much, much less,” says Dr. Robert Pinto of Pinto Chiropractic and Rehabilitation in Williamsburg, Va.
Professional and college athletes aren’t the only ones who can benefit from chiropractic care. With the continuing trend of kids playing one sport year-round, instead of diversifying throughout the year, chiropractic can also help younger athletes.
“There’s so much emphasis these days on travel teams — kids playing the same sport year-round, often playing the same position,” Pinto says. “What happens is the athletes develop problems that could have been evaluated and treated. Instead, they break down before they see someone, and then it’s an issue.”
Pinto, a certified chiropractic sports physician for the last 25 years, has been the chiropractic consultant for the College of William & Mary’s sports medicine department since 1994. He’s among the first chiropractors in the country to have a formal relationship with a college. In his role, Pinto is available to athletes from W&M’s 23 intercollegiate sports — more than 500 student-athletes.
Pinto sees many students who have lower back and lower extremity issues, especially runners. But more and more, he cares for student-athletes as a preventative measure, rather than just for injuries.
“There’s a large contingent who just routinely come in because they think they do better — run faster and jump higher,” he says.
Experts estimate that about 90 percent of all world-class athletes use chiropractic care to prevent injuries and increase their performance potential, according to the American Chiropractic Association. There’s a chiropractor on every NFL team as well as on many other professional sports teams. Boxer Evander Holyfield, baseball player Wade Boggs and former NFL quarterback Joe Montana are other big-name athletes who have spoken positively about chiropractic care. U.S. Olympic athletes began working with sports chiropractors in 1976.
So what can a chiropractor do for an athlete? Every athlete requires flexibility, so chiropractors will look at the whole kinetic chain of the body, assessing any tensions or restrictions, and then focus on aligning all areas of the body so the joints move properly. They look at body symmetry, helping to stabilize and balance spinal muscles, which are important to an athlete’s agility. As little as a 10 percent change in posture can make a 99 percent difference in functions of the body.
Sports chiropractors — who have advanced training that goes beyond regular adjustments — also address stretching techniques and give instructions on equipment, especially shoes, Pinto says.
They stress proper movement patterns, which can be a big issue for a teenage athlete who has gotten pigeonholed in one sport.
Sometimes, playing only one sport can create what’s called a poverty of movement, rather than a range of different movements.
“Over time, faulty movements cause inflammation, and before you know it, something stretches or tears,” Pinto says. Teenage athletes “ought to have someone look at them before this happens to see if they’re developing bad habits.”
For example: One mistake many inexperienced athletes make is to automatically put heat on an injury when ice is the better answer.
“Most everything kids present with is inflammatory, and icing is usually much more effective,” Pinto says. “The pain component in most sports injuries is the inflammatory component. If you can mitigate that component, you can heal a lot faster.”
That’s also where the participatory nature of chiropractic care comes in. For athletes to truly benefit, they need to actively participate in their care and not just take a pill. They need to listen to their chiropractor’s instructions on how to move while playing their sport and when working out.
Chiropractic care for younger athletes is a movement just poised to happen as coaches are realizing chiropractic’s benefit, too. More than 30 million children participate in organized sports in the United States, and some 775,000 are treated in hospital emergency rooms for sports-related injuries. According to the Journal of Neurological Science, traditional medicine is great at treating fractures, dislocations and damaged tendons and ligaments — but spinal stress can be overlooked. It shouldn’t be, Pinto says.
“In the long run, it’ll better serve the kids,” he says. “We do treat the injuries very well, but if we could get them before the injury, it would be a whole lot better.”