Sports Chiropractic Treatment
By Dr. Andy Harmon, DC
A growing number of amateur and elite athletes are seeking sports chiropractic treatment as a part of their injury treatment, injury prevention and general health maintenance program. If you’re like most people you probably don’t actually know what can be achieved with this type of treatment, or even what chiropractic treatment involves.
So then, it is my challenge to clarify the entirety of this topic in one single article, after which, I will need a nap. In all seriousness, there are all types of different chiropractors out there and many different models on how to treat pain. Since the author of this particular article is a chiropractor specializing in sports injuries, as well as an avid cyclist, we will discuss sports chiropractic as it relates to you, the cyclist. Specifically, how can we keep you on the bike free of pain? And while we’re at it, how can this type of treatment help you ride more efficiently.
Dr. Andy Harmon
A Sports Chiropractor is a human biomechanics and soft tissue injury specialist. [In English Please] This means we’re experts in how the muscles, bones, joints, and other soft tissues function (hopefully to propel your bike at a desirable speed), and how to diagnose and treat injuries to the muscluloskeletal system. This means we treat injuries from head to toe, not just the back. Additionally, there is an emphasis on finding and fixing the source of the problem, not just the area of pain. Afterall, the goal should be to get rid of the pain and keep it that way.
Ok biomechanics-soft tissue guy, what do you actually do?
Allow me to oversimplify my existence even further. We help people with 3 major areas:
- Restore tissue elasticity/flexibility (break up scar tissue)
- Restore normal joint motion (mobilize joints)
- Create a customized active rehab program of stretches and exercises for patients
Typical Course of Care
The first time a person calls the sports chiropractic office, it is almost always because they are in pain…often so much pain that they are no longer able to train or race. Evaluation involves orthopedic and biomechanical examination procedures that are widely used in the sports medicine arena. Examination should provide two key pieces of information:
- What is the specific tissue that is injured and how severe?
- What caused the injury to occur?
Biomechanical evaluation often detects flexibility/strength imbalances that predispose individuals for certain injuries (eg. tight hip flexors in cyclists as it relates to low back pain during riding). If the biomechanical cause of the injury is not addressed, symptoms are likely to return when you return to your activity or sport.
Treatment typically involves focus on 3 areas
Most cycling injuries we see are due to the repetitive strain from training and racing. These types of injuries involve soft tissues (muscle, tendon, fascia). Restricted/reduced flexibility of the soft tissues often goes hand-in-hand with restricted joint motion. Treatments are directed at restoring tissue elasticity/flexibility (breaking up scar tissue), restoring normal joint motion with manipulation, and identifying key stretches/exercises that you can do on your own to make a complete recovery and prevent the injury from returning.
Let’s talk Scar Tissue.
Myofascial Release Technique is a soft tissue treatment aimed at breaking up myofascial adhesions (scar tissue). Myofascial Release is not the same as getting a massage. There are very specific protocols aimed to maximize the effectiveness of this treatment for any muscle in the body. A good sports chiropractor is an expert in locating the problem areas where adhesions have formed, and at treating these adhesions.
Why do you have scar tissue?
Myofascial adhesions form as a result of injury to soft tissues (muscle, tendon, ligament, fascia). The injury can be traumatic (eg. ankle sprain) or cumulative (eg. patellofemoral knee pain in cyclists) in nature. When soft tissues are injured, the body lays down a patch (scar). Much like a scab on the skin, scar tissue does the job, but it is not nearly as supple and flexible as the regular tissue. The amount of scar/adhesions one may have in a specific area depends on how severely and/or how many times the tissue has been injured.
What’s the big deal? My body made the scar, isn’t it supposed to be there?
Yes and no. It’s a good thing that the body can patch itself up, otherwise muscle strains might never heal. However, muscles are elastic, much like big high-strength rubber bands. Scar tissue is more like a dried up rubber band that has been left on the dashboard of your car in the hot sun. The presence of scar tissue in a muscle has 3 effects:
- Decrease overall muscle elasticity
- Reduce optimum muscle firing
- Predispose the muscle to future re-injury/tearing
Myofascial Release will break up scar tissue in the muscle, accomplishing 3 things:
- Increase tissue elasticity
- Optimize muscle recruitment/firing
- Reduce risk of re-injury to the area
Restoring Joint Motion
Chiropractic has traditionally been aimed at locating joints that are restricted (not moving smoothly through normal range of motion) and restoring motion to those areas. As you could imagine, if an area in your back or hip was restricted in any way it could reduce efficiency on the bike and even lead to pain and injury of the surrounding tissues. Manipulation of joints is not limited to the spine. Pretty much any joint in the body can be safely adjusted. Some adjusting involves that familiar popping sound, while some types of adjusting are slow and feel more like sustained stretching. In fact, we commonly use stretching techniques to improve both muscle elasticity and to optimize joint motion. Mobilization of joints is effective in reducing pain and restoring optimal joint function.
While passive treatments, such as myofascial release and joint manipulation, are incredibly effective in reducing pain and restoring normal muscle/joint mobility, a cyclist’s long-term physical health largely depends on what they do on their own to keep the body firing on all cylinders. From a sports rehab perspective, this means that you can learn specific stretches and exercises that will keep you injury free and out of the chiropractic office, or at least reduce how often you need to come get the body loosened up.
By addressing strength and flexibility imbalances with prescribed stretching and strengthening exercises, patients are able to develop injury resistance. Additionally, if flare ups do occur, they tend to resolve much more quickly and require less treatment.
Not surprisingly, healthy muscles and joints that are free of myofascial adhesion and restriction will perform optimally during training and racing, and recover faster from hard efforts. What cyclist wouldn’t want that?
Drs. Andy & Jen Harmon are sports chiropractors, avid cyclists and owners of Peak Sports Chiropractic in Niwot, CO. Both specialize in soft tissue injuries and sports rehab. Learn more at : www.peaksportschiropractic.com/