Written By Dr. Jesse J. Suess, D.C.
It’s 2019, the future of sports medicine is upon us. The “if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it” approach to treating the athlete outdated. Athletes of all levels are utilizing preventative care as not only a means of injury prevention, but also as a means of gaining an edge. For generations top notch athletes have been frivolously searching for anything that may give them an edge over their opponents. From pills and potions to diets and exercise routines, athletes will try just about anything to give them that sought after edge on the playing field. Chiropractors all over the globe have been making their way into the top level training rooms. Chiropractors are employed by all 30 NFL teams, 28 of 30 MLB teams (and we’ve seen a recent surge at the minor league level as well), throughout the PGA tour, and even at the Olympics. These chiropractors are not only there to treat and prevent injuries, but also because of the effect that Chiropractic has on performance of the athlete. Chiropractic care benefits the body in two major ways. The first and most obvious way is by improving the biomechanical system. The second, and most important in my opinion, is by increasing the efficiency of the nervous system.
Chiropractic Affect on Biomechanics
Even the lay person understands the importance of biomechanics when it comes to athletic performance. For the sake of understanding the importance of Chiropractic’s role in all this, let’s take a look at the biomechanical role that the thoracic spine plays in a baseball pitchers delivery.
Hip to Shoulder Seperation
Generating enough force to throw a baseball 90+ mph is one of the more complicated and violent motions in all of sports. The amount of Hip-to-Shoulder separation that an athlete achieves during the pitch is arguably the single most important factor when it comes to generating velocity. When we’re talking about hip to shoulder seperation, we are looking at the maximum distance achieved between the pitchers throwing shoulder and the hip of their plant leg (opposite hip). This system acts like a bow and arrow, the greater the separation, the greater the potential for velocity.
Where does the spine come in to all of this? Well think about what lies between the hip and the shoulder. Therefore, if the spine is unable to extend appropriately, its going to have a negative impact on the athletes ability to achieve the desired hip to shoulder separation that’s required to achieve the velocity that they are looking for and the pitcher begins to “over throw”. This is where shoulder injuries are born.
Scapular Mobility is an essential piece to the biomechanical puzzle for any overhand athlete. In order for a pitcher to achieve the proper arm slot for his pitching motion, He must first achieve the proper amount of shoulder abduction (pictured below). For the first 90 degrees of abduction, the scapula must be able to glide effectively over the rib cage without interference or fixation. A dysfunctional thoracic spine makes this extremely difficult to accomplish. Once the shoulder exceeds 90 degrees of abduction, the thoracic spine is recruited into lateral bending to help the scapula achieve it’s final 30 degrees of abduction. If the thoracic spine isn’t able to achieve the desired amount of lateral bending, that movement responsibility is passed to the shoulder and rotator cuff, increasing potential for injury and decreasing the efficiency of the biomechanical system.
Chiropractic Affect on Neurology
Grey’s anatomy states that the job of the nervous system is a to control and coordinate all systems of the body. The primary job of the spine is to protect the spinal cord, an integral part of the nervous system. When I talk about the nervous system I often use the analogy of a highway, because the spinal cord is essentially the information super highway of the body. The brain uses the spinal cord to send and receive information and motor signals to and from every part of the body to constantly. At every spinal level there are nerve roots, which allows the spinal cord to branch off and head to their final destination. These nerve roots are analogous to the exits on the highway.
Because of the direct relationship between the spine and the spinal cord, when there is tension and restriction on a certain area of the spine, this also causes tension on that area of the nervous system, which causes “traffic” at the involved nerve roots, slowing down the efficiency of the nervous system. Let’s say you get in a car in the morning head off to work, you’re driving on the highway and you finally get to your exit, and much to your dismay there is traffic at your exit. This traffic isn’t going to stop you from getting to work, but it will make you get to work much less efficiently. The same goes for the nervous system. When there is tension on the spine this causes “traffic“ on that area of the nervous system, causing whatever is fed by that nerve root to function less efficiently. So what role does the nervous system play in athletic performance? The big two factors are position sense and timing.
Position Sense and Timing
An integral part of the nervous system as it relates to athletic performance is the body’s ability to know where it is in space, we call this proprioception. When you close your eyes you don’t lose track of where your feet or hands are, this is proprioception in its simplest form, always sending information back to the brain on the body position. Now let’s say that a soccer player is running up the field and decides to juke the defender. He’s made up his mind that he’s going to plant his right foot in the ground and cut hard to the left in order to fake out his opponent. All of this information coming to and from the brain in a matter of seconds. Now let’s say that our soccer player has restriction at the level of the spine that these nerve signals enter the spine, slowing down the efficiency of the communication between the brain and the body. How would this affect the juke? Maybe the motion will occur slower than desired, causing the juke to become less effective. Or it could cause the brain to misinterpret the proprioceptive (position) information sent to the brain causing an inappropriate motor response to the muscles involved in creating the juke, putting the knee at greater risk of injury.
In mainstream society chiropractic is looked at as primarily a means of treating back pain and neck pain. But when you transition over to the world of athletics, the true potential of chiropractic has been on display for decades. The truth of the matter is that a good chiropractor does not heal the body, he/she put the body in the best position to function at its optimal efficiency, which in turn leads to healing. I’ll end this with a list of athletes that have credited chiropractic care with playing a role in their success as athletes. If you would like to learn more please don’t hesitate to reach out directly, firstname.lastname@example.org.
Athletes who have credited chiropractic care as an integral part of their playing career:
Yours in health,
Dr. Jesse Suess
Suess Family Chiropractic, LLC
22 Wyckoff Ave., Suite #1
Waldwick, NJ 07463