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There is undeniable irony discussing professional sports in a week where most athletes have been sidelined. However, the fact remains that professional and Olympic athletes appreciate the value of peak performance more than almost any other patient population. At the highest competitive level, tiny performance disparities can make the difference between being a champion and being unemployed.

Not surprisingly, these athletes rely upon a large cadre of strength coaches, trainers, therapists, nutritionists, psychologists, and other providers. In recent years those support networks have consistently included chiropractic care. Various studies show that approximately 9-14% of Americans utilize chiropractic care each year. (1) In contrast, more than 95% of NFL and MLB pro athletes have a chiropractor on their team. (2,3)  Likewise, a large number of Olympic athletes rely on chiropractors to stay healthy. In fact, the Team USA chief medical officer for the past four Olympics was a chiropractor. (4)

This blog will discuss how chiropractors can successfully integrate into sports and why these relationships benefit our profession, highlighted by a one-on-one interview with Dr. Hirad Najaf Bagy, team chiropractor for the Washington Redskins, Washington Nationals, and DC United Soccer.

Beginning with the iconic 1989 Superbowl where an estimated 90 million fans watched Joe Montana being adjusted before the game, (5) professional athletes have provided some of the most potent chiropractic endorsements:

“Chiropractic just makes you feel so much better. When I walk out of the clinic, I feel like I’m about three inches taller and everything’s in place. And as long as I see the chiropractor, I feel like I’m one step ahead of the game.”

Tom Brady, New England Patriots

“I didn’t know how much I could improve until I started seeing a chiropractor. Since I’ve been in chiropractic, I’ve improved by leaps and bounds both mentally and physically.”

Michael Jordan, Chicago Bulls

“Being a Chiropractic patient has really helped me immensely…lifting weights and seeing a Chiropractor on a regular basis has made me a better golfer. I’ve been going to Chiropractors for as long as I can remember. It’s as important to my training as practicing my swing.”

Tiger Woods, Professional Golfer

“Our chiropractor, he does amazing work, he was able to go in there and make adjustment. We did two treatments of it and really freed up the neck, the C5-C6 area, along with the trap, spasm, really felt like it subsided. And even when I was warming up tonight I felt really good. I’m good to go [to start World Series game seven].” (6)

Max Scherzer, Washington Nationals

Washington Nationals ace Max Scherzer went from being a World Series game five scratch to game seven starter and World Series champion. Scherzer’s contribution was crucial for the Nationals victory, and his comments provided a compelling endorsement for chiropractors everywhere.

I recently caught up with Dr. Hirad Najaf Bagy, team chiropractor for the Washington Nationals, as well as the Washington Redskins and DC United Soccer teams. While Dr. Bagy would not be able to discuss details about any given patient, he can share some thoughts about his role in professional sports.

The fundamental attributes that separate elite athletes from their relatively unknown (and uncompensated) peers are strikingly similar to what separates elite chiropractors from their struggling colleagues. 

What Defines an Elite Athlete?

Mike Matheny, former manager of the (13-time World Series Champion) St Louis Cardinals, has made four observations about what differentiates highly paid all-stars from nearly identical, yet struggling, AAA players: 

  • They have set goals and measure their performance
  • They practice and work harder than their peers
  • They seek out the best coaches and resources
  • They place team success above personal success

The pros know what they want to achieve, then take advantage of the best coaches and trainers. Superstars practice how they hope to play – like intense, committed winners.

 What Defines an Elite Chiropractor?

Not surprisingly, top-tier chiropractors embody strikingly similar qualities. To illustrate, ChiroUp reached out to several elite chiropractors who have been chosen from their peers to care for professional teams and Olympic athletes. We asked them to share their guiding concepts for working with athletes at any level. Here’s what the pro’s said: 

* ChiroUp would like to thank the following providers for their expert input: Dr. Tom Hyde (Miami Dolphins- retired), Dr. Brett Winchester (St. Louis Cardinals), Dr. Jim Kurtz (Seattle Seahawks, Seattle Sounders, PGA tour), and Dr. Hirad Najaf Bagy (Washington Redskins, Washington Nationals, and DC United Soccer).

1. Train for your “A” game

  • Seek continual development to build and refine a complete “toolbox”
  • Take top-quality, evidence-based courses to help you improve your all-around skills to treat a variety of athletes with a variety of maladies
  • Don’t employ and unfounded techniques or spread BS viewpoints; your well-educated teammates will sniff that out in a second and lose trust
  • Master the ability to identify specific functional deficits that inhibit performance.
  • A good sports chiropractor not only has to have amazing soft tissue skills and adjusting skills but also needs an excellent understanding of a thorough functional exam like the SFMA
  • Being well-versed in rehabilitation is crucial, but manual skills are a huge differentiator.  The present-day training room in professional sports is typically limited in people who are world-class in manual care.  It seems as though exercise science and rehabilitation have exploded on the scene in the last five years, and manual therapy is secondary.  An approach that can incorporate both will make you a force to be reckoned with.
  • The ability to assess quickly can help drive proper treatment in a world that is crunched for time.
  • Consider advanced training, i.e., DACBSP, DACO, Master’s, PT, ATC, Ph.D, etc.
  • Subscribe to several top-quality journals and resources, i.e., Spine, JMPT, ChiroUp, etc.

2. Be willing to work your ass off

  • Regardless of your profession, building elite skills is never a matter of luck – success comes only through grueling dedication.
  • Learn, read, write, and never stop that cycle
  • Be patient, just like the athletes, start with youth teams and work toward the professional level. Very few people have ever made a pro team without “paying their dues”
  • Volunteer to work in any sporting event anyone will let you be a part of to begin your learning process
  • Understand that teams (and all patients) need active care, not just ongoing passive therapies.
  • Most highly successful pro sports staff members are typically in very good shape themselves.  Pro athletes respect others who take good care of themselves and will more readily follow the advice of someone who is fit.

3. Place team success above personal success

  • It’s not at all about you, so never place your own interests ahead of the team’s
  • There’s a reason that teams have more than one player. Focus on your “lane” and realize your diverse skills represent a single “drawer” that is part of a more extensive tool “cabinet”
  • Speak the same language as the rest of the training and medical staff and be a part of a unified message to the athlete about what’s wrong and what it’s going to take to get back on the field again at 100% function.
  • Be inclusive, incorporate other professions on your team at events
  • Share your experiences, educate others, and learn from others. Most importantly, always be willing to promote and help others

Conclusion

The fact that the world’s greatest athletes rely on chiropractic care is quite an auspicious statement for our profession. These elite competitors have access to ANYTHING and have chosen chiropractic. But not just any brand of chiropractic, rather those providers who have mastered the essential characteristics. DC’s who deliver this level of care are truly providing a product that people want to buy, rather than one that they need to sell.

Could you imagine a world where every DC ascribed to this level of commitment? A world where more than 95% of the population utilizes chiropractic care? Now that’s a game-changer!

While we cannot dictate the choices of our peers, we can each influence our profession’s future by relentlessly refining our personal brands to an ever-changing “pro-worthy” level. Investing in your clinical skills consistently can help you become a superstar – providing a service that is progressively more desirable to patients and payors alike.

Like it or not, the emerging value-based healthcare model will classify each of us into performance tiers. Comparisons will be the norm and, like sports, only the “pros” will be well-compensated.

We must embrace outcome metrics.

Tryouts are happening right now. To survive in the value-based model, we must provide the greatest value. Which means we must employ systems that:

  1. Keep us up-to-date
  2. Educate our patients & promote compliance
  3. Measure and relay our outcomes 

If you’re a hard worker who’s looking for a partner in that journey of excellence…we want you on our team. If you’re ready to automate those things, I encourage you to visit www.ChiroUp.com to learn more about our resource.

So, what do you say — Are you ready to leave it all on the field until our profession is the undeniable best choice for patients and payors alike?

References
  1. Beliveau PJ, Wong JJ, Sutton DA, Simon NB, Bussières AE, Mior SA, French SD. The chiropractic profession: a scoping review of utilization rates, reasons for seeking care, patient profiles, and care provided. Chiropractic & manual therapies. 2017 Dec;25(1):35. Link
  2. English C et al. Majority in U.S. Say Chiropractic Works for Neck, Back Pain. Gallup September 8, 2015. Link
  3. Data extracted from the Professional Football Chiropractic Society website, and the Pro Baseball Chiropractic Society website.
  4. Dr. Bill Moreau bio University of Western States. Accessed online 03/05/2020 Link
  5. Radford M. Chiropractic History Made at Superbowl XXIV. Dynamic Chiropractic February 28, 1990. Link
  6. Axisa M. World Series Game 7: How Max Scherzer went from Game 5 scratch to winner-take-all start in 72 hours. CBSSports.com October 30, 2019 Link

About the Author

Dr. Tim Bertelsman

Dr. Tim Bertelsman

DC, CCSP, DACO

Dr. Tim Bertelsman graduated with honors from Logan College of Chiropractic and has been practicing in Belleville, IL since 1992. He has lectured nationally on various clinical and business topics and has been published extensively. He has served in several leadership positions within the Illinois Chiropractic Society and currently serves as past president of the executive board.

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