Chiropractic treatment for triathletes goes beyond the back-cracking stereotype.
Ask any collection of triathletes for opinions about chiropractic care, and you’ll find the group quickly splits into two camps: those who swear by their weekly or monthly visits to the chiropractor, and those who insist it’s nothing more than quackery.
According to Dr. Spencer Baron, a member of the American Chiropractic Association (ACA) Sports Council, encourages those naysayers to think again: a trained sports chiropractor may be just what an athlete needs.
“Recent studies have shown athletes who undergo chiropractic care may experience improved range of motion, increased strength and improved acuity of the nervous system,” says Dr. Baron.
What’s more, chiropractic care may provide pain relief without a pill. Dr. Jay Greenstein, who represents the ACA’s Council on Sports Injuries, says this last benefit may be the most important:
“With the current studies this past year that have come out against the use of acetaminophen and NSAIDS due to the increased risk of heart disease and stroke, chiropractic just makes sense for the athlete wanting an evidence-based approach to eliminating pain, restoring full function, and improving athletic performance.”
There are a multitude of styles and techniques utilized by chiropractors. The key to successful treatment is to identify a practitioner who can address the concerns of that individual: some doctors provide a soft touch, such as techniques used on babies and the elderly, while other practices are more rigorous. The latter style is usually rendered to athletes.
“Chiropractic is a health profession that restores normal neuromusculoskeletal function to the body through the use of a variety of treatment tools,” says Dr. Greenstein. Spinal manipulation—in other words, the “back cracking” most people associate with chiropractic care—is just one of many tools chiropractors use to reduce pain, restore full physical function, and reduce the risk of re-injury.
Soft Tissue Treatments
Some chiropractors are specially trained in manual therapy of soft tissue—techniques to break up areas restricted by scar tissue from injury, overuse, or poor movement patterns. In addition to restoring range of motion in athletes, soft tissue treatments can reduce inflammation and expedite healing. The most common protocols chiropractors use on athletes are Graston or Active Release Techniques (ART).
For issues attributed to poor movement patterns, chiropractors may treat an athlete using kinesiology tape. Unlike standard athletic tape, which can be stiff and restrictive, kinesiology tape is stretchy and flexible. This encourages better movement patterns—for example, runner’s knee may be alleviated with tape by encouraging correct joint tracking. Kinesiology tape can be a temporary fix to a problem while the athlete gradually strengthens weak muscles and corrects form issues contributing to the injury.
ADL Training/Behavior Modification
If you’re feeling pain on the bike, that doesn’t necessarily mean the bike is causing the pain. Activities of daily living, or ADL, contribute to a multitude of injuries that manifest during exercise. For example, an athlete experiencing shoulder pain while swimming may be surprised to learn from her chiropractor that sleeping with her arm under her pillow is the actual cause of her injury; another athlete with knee problems while running may find relief by reducing the amount of time he spends sitting at work.
Once an injured athlete has recovered, a sports chiropractor may construct a treatment plan to prevent it from reoccurring. Rehabilitative exercises can correct muscle imbalances, enhance awareness of correct movement patterns, and increase core strength for more stability.
As an adjunct to traditional treatments, some chiropractors may employ the use of electrical stimulation, laser, or ultrasound in their offices. Some chiropractors also partner with massage therapists, acupuncturists, or nutritional advisors to provide a multi-pronged approach to keeping an athlete healthy.
Choosing a Chiropractor
Licensed chiropractors are considered physician-level providers by the United States government and can provide consultations, physical examinations and radiological services for patients. However, athletes should research providers before scheduling an appointment.
According to Dr. Greenstein, triathletes should ask other endurance athletes for referrals to chiropractors with specialized training in sports injuries and athletic performance:
“There are many outstanding sports chiropractors across the country and around the world. These sports chiropractors work on athletes at the pediatric level, all the way up to the NFL and Olympic teams. Finding the right sports chiropractor for the athlete means doing your homework online, speaking with friends who are athletes who have had great experiences, and asking the prospective doctors about their training and philosophy. Taking these steps will get the athlete aligned with the DC who can ensure their highest level of success.”
By Susan Lacke
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