Aligning for Fitness - Chiropractic Care Prevents Injury, Boosts Performance
by Linda Sechrist
October is National Chiropractic Health Month
What do distinguished athletes like Jerry Rice, a Hall of Fame retired wide receiver and three-time Super Bowl champion, and Lance Armstrong, a former professional road racing cyclist and seven-time Tour de France winner, have in common? To withstand the rigors and intensity of each of their sports, these champions have both used the services of a chiropractic doctor skilled in chiropractic sports sciences and rehabilitation.
As more athletes discover that chiropractic care goes beyond rehabilitation benefits to further enhance performance, they are coming to rely on it as a tool to support the healthy structure and functioning of their skeletal and muscular system. A 2002 study published in the Journal of Manipulative and Physiological Therapeutics noted that 31 percent of National Football League teams include chiropractors on their staff.
Doctor of Chiropractic Jeff Ludwick assists players of the Harrisburg Stampede, a semi-professional Pennsylvania football team. “Improper spinal alignment creates muscular imbalances and nerve interferences,” advises Ludwick, owner of Camp Hill Family Chiropractic, in Camp Hill, Pennsylvania. “With properly aligned skeletal and nervous systems, an athlete’s body doesn’t have to work as hard,” which is why team members receive spinal adjustments before hitting the field for this high-impact sport.
Ludwick notes that football is known for stressing hip joints, because when a player’s hip turns out even a few degrees, especially from sudden changes in direction, falling or violent contact with another player, tendons and muscles become tighter on one side than the other. “Chiropractic adjustments anticipate and prevent this, so that the body doesn’t have to waste energy compensating for imbalances,” he explains.
Traditionally, chiropractic care is known for focusing on postural adjustments to minimize abnormal stresses and strains that affect the function of the nervous system and act on joints and spinal tissues. But active exercises and stretches, extension traction and ergonomic education are frequently added as preventive protocols to help athletes avert injury.
Cause and Effects
The spinal cord operates like a switchboard for the body, transferring electrical impulses via a network of nerves. It works properly as long as there is no interference between the brain and tissue cells. But when nerve endings swell due to misaligned vertebrae, injury is more likely. Research reported in the Journal of Chiropractic Medicine and The Physician and Sportsmedicine indicates that chiropractic sports science helps find and correct the underlying causes, and thus helps prevent and heal injuries.
During one research project, Chung Ha Suh, Ph.D., and his team at the University of Colorado demonstrated that even, “minuscule amounts of pressure on a nerve root (equal to a feather falling on the hand), resulted in up to a 50 percent decrease in electrical transmission down the course of the nerve supplied by that root.” The resulting biomechanical misalignment causes a domino effect: It exerts abnormal pressure on the nerve root, causes interference in the brain’s impulses to tissue cells, and alters the performance of any muscles and organs that the nerve serves.
Chiropractic Physician Jay Sweeney, owner of San Antonio Family Alternative Medicine, in Texas, uses functional neurology to “send a barrage of neurologically correct signals through the nervous system straight into the brain” in order to promote the balance, stability and coordination that enhance athletic performance and help prevent injuries.
Dr. Nicole Galiette, owner of Chiropractic & Rehabilitation Center, in Cheshire, Connecticut, believes that her expertise as a marathon runner helps to guard athlete clients from fatigue and stress that affect joints as a result of repetitive motions. “In any sport, there is a tendency to use one side, one joint or one movement more than others,” advises Galiette.
For example, cyclists and runners’ repetitive stress injuries most often occur in the knees and back, while swimmers and baseball pitchers experience them in the shoulders. When Galiette treats cyclists that overwork their leg muscles and lean forward in an awkward spinal position for extended periods, she emphasizes strengthening exercises. “Injuries that heal properly are less susceptible to future flare-ups,” she notes.
“Anyone that pushes their body hard needs to be in proper alignment, to keep the muscular system balanced,” Galiette asserts. “Strengthening the muscles around body mechanisms that are most frequently used means that the integrity of the surrounding structures won’t be compromised and cause other problems.”
Linda Sechrist is a senior writer and editor for Natural Awakenings.