soccer player

Giving Student Athletes the Chiropractic Edge

Youth sports in the United States is a $19.2 billion dollar market, a size that rivals even the National Football League. According to the CDC, organized sports participation in the U.S. among children aged 6-17 years was at 54.1% in 2020. That translates to approximately 60 million youth taking part in sports activities.

Involvement in team activities provides a variety of benefits for growing bodies and minds. In addition to needed physical activity, for many kids, participation provides an important social outlet and support network that can reduce stress as well. Many athletes may also do better academically as sporting activities require skill sets that include discipline, repetition and memorization that can translate to work in the classroom. Involvement in sports also requires teamwork, communication, problem-solving skills, goal-setting and determination that can all be applied throughout life.

The benefits of chiropractic care have long been acknowledged in professional athletics. Doctors of chiropractic (DCs) can be seen on the sidelines as crucial members of the medical staff for 90% of professional sports organizations including Major League Baseball, all of the National Hockey League teams and all of the teams in the NFL. Not only are DCs well-versed in injury care and management, they also work to prevent injuries and provide strategies for athletes to enhance performance. For our younger developing athletes, DCs offer similar benefits.

The Chiropractic Edge

Chiropractors work with patients of all ages and understand the complexities of how the bones and soft tissues of the body develop throughout childhood and adolescence. DCs strive to support younger athletes to encourage optimal health both on and off of the playing field.

Exams: Chiropractors offer sports physicals and spinal screenings to help protect kids as they develop. Physicals for sports are imperative and are typically required for all athletics in U.S. school systems.  These exams help provide a baseline for overall health and detect potential underlying conditions, such as Marfan’s Syndrome, heart issues or joint problems that could lead to complications or injury during play. Though cardiac arrest in young athletes is rare (about 1 in 50,000) heart abnormalities in young athletes can include structural or electrical issues. A family history taken during the process can also provide vital information for potential conditions that may be inherited. DCs collaborate care with other specialists whenever necessary to support the best interests of athletes’ health and safety. Atypical heart findings, such as an arrhythmia (irregular rhythm) found during a sports physical, for example, would prompt the DC to refer the athlete for further analysis or testing with a pediatric cardiologist.

Screenings:  During development, scoliosis screenings are also important for all children to ensure potential cases are caught early, monitored and managed appropriately. DCs are often called into schools to provide this service but also include screenings in their offices during sports physicals and as part of office visits with children and adolescents.

Doctors of chiropractic routinely analyze posture and recommend ways to correct any imbalances found. Tech Neck is currently a very concerning issue amongst youth worldwide and the altered posture and symptoms that come with it can affect the health of youth, set them up for injury and influence sports performance. DCs offer a variety of interventions to correct the unhealthy posture of Tech Neck and help kids lay a foundation to support future spinal health and avoid premature joint degeneration and deformity.

Performance Enhancement: Agility is a main factor when enhancing performance. This can sometimes be a challenge for kids undergoing growth spurts and having to periodically re-learn how to coordinate a taller, larger body. Chiropractic care can help developing athletes with strategies to maintain balance, stability and flexibility so they keep their game strong:

Balance: Enables the athlete to be agile and exert their body with greater strength, speed and precision. Imbalance can inhibit performance or contribute to situations that can result in injury. DCs work with muscular imbalances between flexor and extensor muscle groups and provide exercises for athletes to gain and maintain stability and increase proprioceptive skills which allow for the body’s ability to inherently sense movement, action and location.

Stability: Allows the body to quickly return to a state of equilibrium after it is disrupted (eg. from a sudden movement or quick turn.) Stability directly affects an athlete’s resilience and allows for a strong solid foundation on which to be grounded or defend from opponents. Chiropractic care can help stabilize skeletal inequities through spinal adjustments, restore optimal alignment and address issues such as gait issues, uneven shoulders or hips that can affect both balance and stability.

Flexibility: Provides optimum range of motion (ROM) that is needed to maximize speed, strength and overall performance. In track, for example, increased flexibility in the hip and muscles of the leg can allow for a longer stride or ability to position the legs for a hurdle. Flexibility also plays a role in injury prevention; rigidity in tissues that require a specific ROM can more easily lead to sprain/strain injuries.

Injury Recovery: Two of the most common injuries that arise from participation in sports include head injury (concussion) and sprain/strain of the spine and/or the extremity joints. DCs on the sidelines are trained to assess injuries when they occur and provide early interventions for healing. In the case of head injuries, DCs understand current concussion guidelines and how to assess for brain injury, communicate with emergency services, determine a need for imaging studies and safely stabilize the head and neck to minimize further damage or complications.

A concussion is a type of traumatic brain injury, not unlike what is experienced with whiplash. A bump, blow or jolt to the body causes the head to move rapidly back and forth affecting the brain within the skull. After any type of injury, care should be sought out as soon as possible to mitigate complications and facilitate healing. Though most mild concussions are not usually life threatening, they should be closely monitored. The tissues need time to heal and symptoms can be significant. Athletes and their parents should realize that a concussion is a “traumatically induced transient disturbance of brain function.”

DCs are trained to assess concussion injury and monitor symptoms that may include:

  • Affective/emotional function such as mood changes or irritability
  • Cognitive functions such as confusion, disorientation, amnesia, mental fog or difficulty concentrating
  • Physical symptoms like headache, dizziness, balance issues and visual changes
  • Sleep issues such as drowsiness, sleeping more or less or difficulty falling asleep

In sports, as in car accidents, this type of injury is most often accompanied with injury (sprain/strain) to the cervical spine (neck). Sprain/strains also occur in sports in other parts of the spine, shoulder and extremities such as the wrist or ankle. DCs work to keep optimum motion in the affected joints, facilitate healing in the soft tissues and mitigate symptoms to promote complete healing and faster healing times.

Pain Relief and Beyond

As young athletes heal from injury, they often are more focused on getting back in the game as quickly as possible. For parents and guardians, a main concern includes the dangers of painkillers and the possibility that their child will mask the pain with pills and potentially cause more injury.

Chiropractic care is not only drug-free, but is also highly effective for managing both acute and chronic neuromusculoskeletal pain. DCs work to keep optimum motion in the involved joints, provide physiotherapy modalities when indicated, offer exercises to strengthen and stabilize injured muscles and joints, address muscle spasms and recommend nutrition or supplements that can work to reduce inflammation in the body. All of these strategies maximize the healing process to safely get young athletes back to the sport they love.

Whether in sports arenas, on a school team or at a park near home, DCs are a vital part of the healthcare team for athletes. Starting with exams and screenings, doctors of chiropractic work to keep young athletes safe and healthy. DCs provide pain relief and injury recovery and then go beyond those basics to focus on prevention and remain injury free. By adjusting the joints of the spine and extremities to optimize function, offering nutritional and lifestyle recommendations and providing strategies to improve balance, stability and flexibility, DCs provide a competitive edge as they strive to improve the overall performance and resilience of student athletes of all ages.

woman falling off of ladder

Smart Timing After Slips, Trips and Falls

According to the National Safety Council, “Falls are one of the leading causes of unintentional injuries in the U.S.”  In 2020 over 42,000 people died in falls at home and at work and more than 6.8 million people were treated in emergency rooms for fall-related injuries. 

Slips, trips and fall accidents can happen at any stage of life. For babies and toddlers, it may be a tumble from a crib or from learning to walk; for children, it may be from roughhousing on the playground or falling from a bicycle. Sports are a common field for falls for people of all ages and we also find slips and falls a common cause of personal injuries at home and in public domains.

During our careers (and depending on vocation), workplace slips and falls are common cause of injury, lost work time and workers’ compensation issues. In the golden years, fall risks become even more significant. For senior citizens, (those 65 and older), fall risks increase substantially and can pose much higher risks of morbidity and mortality as a result. It is estimated that millions (one in four) of older individuals will suffer a fall each year. Out of those that fall, it is sadly reported that less than half will even tell their doctor.

Many falls that people endure are ‘light’ and do not cause significant injuries, however, one of every five falls is said to cause a serious injury such as harm to the head or a broken bone. A big danger lies in-between these extremes in that injury may exist but symptoms from a fall injury or mild concussion may not manifest right away. These types of ‘temporarily hidden’ injuries are a cause for concern. Don’t wait for a deep bruise or dizziness to manifest days after injury to realize you were hurt. Because concussion and musculoskeletal symptoms may show up later, it is extremely pertinent that people seek care and monitoring after any slip and fall incident to avoid complications and optimize a swift and safe healing process.

When preparing for an assessment it is very helpful to try to remember the mechanism of the fall and your positioning such as: ‘What caused it?,’ ‘How did you land?,’ ‘Did you hit your head?,’ ‘Did any joints of the back or extremities bend abnormally?,’ ‘What type of surface did you land on?,’ ‘Were there any abrasions or bleeding?’ These types of details provide many important clues about the injuries that you may have sustained.

A Dangerous Reality

In the case of severe falls, 911 and emergency care should happen immediately. For other falls, it’s still critical to seek consultation and care as soon after a fall as possible. It is imperative to understand that individuals may or may not feel the effects right away. For some people pain, strain/sprain, lack of motion, bleeding, a bump on the head, blurred vision or other telltale signs of injury will be present. For others, the effects and symptoms may be delayed many days after the fact.

Neglecting timely management can prolong the inflammatory process and healing time which in turn can cause people to unwittingly cause further injury. A delayed response to seeking evaluation after a fall can lead to complications. Concussion is one of the most serious. If the fall causes a jerk or hitting of the head, the effect can be like that of a whiplash injury and a concussion may be present along with injury to the cervical spine (neck). 

If symptoms show up later, the dangerous reality is that people may not realize that they suffered a concussion. Healing and rest is needed for the brain. When an individual opts to jump back into activities or sports it can create risk for a potential second incident that could cause much more significant harm. After a fall, and especially if you jerk or hit your head, have your doctor of chiropractic (DC) evaluate you right away.

No matter when they occur, symptoms such as passing out, blurred or tunnel vision, nausea/vomiting dizziness, amnesia, fluid drainage from the nose or ears, ongoing paleness, slurred speech, weakness in the arms or legs, seizures, inability to balance and walk would all warrant an immediate assessment.

Latent symptoms

Mild concussions may have symptoms that manifest later. Neck stiffness with injury to soft tissues, headache, dizziness, abnormal sensations or paresthesias (burning, prickling or numbness), shoulder or back pain, extremity pain or loss of motion, memory loss, concentration issues, nervousness, irritability, sleep disturbances, fatigue or depression should all be watched for after a fall. New headaches that do not remit or get worse over time should be paid special attention to as they may represent a building of pressure in the brain and would require immediate attention.

In the case of neuromusculoskeletal injuries, like sprain/strain, pain symptoms, limited motion and outward signs like bruising may take time to appear. Waiting days for symptoms to arrive is losing precious time to optimize joint function, care for inflammation and support the healing process. Having an assessment right after a fall occurs allows your DC to examine the involved joints and maximize your healing process. 

After a fall the individual should cease activity and engage in R.I.C.E. protocols to minimize inflammation. Rest-Ice-Compression-Elevation takes the pressure off of the joints, works to control inflammation and start the healing process in a healthy way.

Without management of the injury site, some patients, for example, may opt to use a heating pad because it sounds relaxing. In reality, they will be increasing inflammation in the joints that can swiftly lead to more pain and disrupt the body’s healing process.

Prompt chiropractic care also decreases the risks of doing something too quickly that will result in further harm to the area of injury (like a heating pad or initiating exercise prematurely), DCs deliver care that includes:

  • Utilizing protocols for monitoring concussion.
  • Stabilizing the spine or joints when needed with braces or splints.
  • Managing acute injuries with R.I.C.E and changing protocols as healing occurs.
  • Restricting the movement of joints that need to rest to heal.
  • Recognizing the risk of mini-fractures that may not show up on X-rays right away. If fractures are not obvious and go untreated they may become unstable when people try to use the injured area normally. A care team will watch for fractures that may appear later and ensure they have time to heal effectively and not become worse.
  • Adjusting all affected joints to maximize function and alignment that help ensure that surrounding soft tissues will heal in balance with the attached bones.

Doctors of chiropractic (DCs) are an invaluable part of the health care team for slips and falls and may be a more accessible option for those cases that don’t require immediate emergency services. DCs are trained to examine the spine and extremities after injuries and are well-versed in the guidelines for concussion and management. Many offices also are equipped with X-ray capabilities for diagnosis and physiotherapy modalities that can be incorporated in recovery plans.

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