Keep professional players ready for action with professional sports rehab while also picking up the profession
CHIROPRACTORS ARE NOW IN MEDICAL STAFF For almost every professional sports team – from baseball to hockey to soccer and football – provides professional sports rehabilitation and care to improve athletic performance, treat injuries, and minimize the risk of future injuries.
Logan University graduate Emma Minx, DC (’14), CCSP, MS, former Chicago Bears team chiropractor of the National Football League (NFL); Mike Murphy, DC (’95), team chiropractor for the St. Louis Blues of the National Hockey League (NHL) and the St. Louis Cardinals of Major League Baseball (MLB); and Chris Williams, DC (’98), team chiropractors for the MLB’s Tampa Bay Rays and the NFL’s Tampa Bay Buccaneers, share their experiences in the world of professional sports.
How does chiropractic fit into the sports medicine team?
Murphy: I’ve always believed in an integrated approach. Each member of the medical team knows the strengths of the other and we are in constant contact. Just as the players have their positions and moves, we also have their position and that benefits the team.
Williams: Chiropractic is an important part of treating athletes – I would say that over 50% of all athletes on both teams I work with will have chiropractic care by me during the season, and there are many times in professional baseball that players have that the opposing teams ask me to see me when they’re in town.
Why is chiropractic care invaluable for professional athletes?
Bitch: Chiropractic allows you to make change quickly, which is invaluable to an athlete before or during a game. Chiropractic does a great job of relieving joint limitation without relying on medication for pain relief and helping to keep the body moving. It is also important to remember that for these athletes, their livelihoods depend heavily on having well-moving bodies. If they can’t play, they can’t make money. Chiropractic helps them to work at a high level and get their jobs done too.
Williams: For us chiropractors, we understand the basic support of chiropractic for the general well-being of the individual. Competitive athletes always strive to be one step ahead of their competitors and rely on chiropractic treatments to reduce discomfort, tension and limitations and to increase flexibility. I see that after their adjustments, athletes feel refreshed and able to focus on their performance knowing they are in line and ready to go.
What is your most memorable moment working in the big leagues?
Bitch: It was a career goal of mine to work with a professional team and the first regular season game I worked on was a Sunday Night football [broadcast] Game in Green Bay – the rival of the bears. The away team dressing rooms at Lambeau Field are very different from most stadiums. you go and go through a long, narrow corridor until finally the lights get a little brighter and the noise of people gets a little louder, and suddenly it opens up to the stadium. Going out on the field and having the energy of a Sunday Night football game against a rival team was surreal. When I think about it, I get goose bumps because I remember going to the stadium and feeling like I finally reached the goal that I was working towards.
Murphy: The Blues 2019 Stanley Cup win was a pretty surreal moment in my career. We got close a couple of times, but to win the Stanley Cup a lot of things have to come its way … good players, stay healthy and of course win 16 games in the playoffs. This year it all came together. What made the win so cool was sharing it with all of the people who work hard in the organization, from management and coaches to the offices, equipment and media staff. When you’re traveling and having dinner together, team success is everyone’s success.
Williams: There are far too many to list … being part of the Super Bowl and traveling to the playoff games. To be in the field for the Super Bowl celebration. Before and during the game, work on the players and watch them do amazing things like score a touchdown, hit a sack, intercept a ball, or hit a home run, then talk about chiropractic in the post-game interview . When the athlete calls or text me for advice on their particular problem, which shows how much confidence they have in chiropractic care. Getting to know the players personally and fishing or golfing together in the off-season. And probably the most frequently asked question has to be, “What’s Tom Brady like?” My answer is that if he were the CEO of a company, I would buy shares in that company because he is a born leader. The players listen to him and follow him.
What types of injuries / treatments and professional sports rehabilitation do you typically offer?
Bitch: Although I treat and evaluate many diseases in the clinic, my role with the Bears was that of a technician. Occasionally I was consulted about an athlete’s injury, but most of the time I was under the guidance of the sports director and other orthopedics. Our role was to keep the players moving, whether it be treating hip tightness, lower back stiffness, or strained muscles. We also saw some ankle problems, especially when they were training on turf, and every now and then we saw a neck injury from a tough duel.
Williams: In baseball, we see overuse of the same muscle groups or patterns for every position due to the fact that baseball is a one-dimensional sport. Players run the bases the same way, pitchers throw with the same arm, batters hit from the same side of the plate, and players catch with the same arm. For example, in a right-handed pitcher who throws at high speed and is over 6 feet-2, we typically see left sacroiliac and lumbar problems from the landing point outside the pitcher’s mound, with right median back pain. Anything is possible in football! We treat many musculoskeletal injuries that require rest and rehabilitation.
What is the most important thing you have learned from professional athletes while providing chiropractic care?
Murphy: Communication is the key. I had just been away from Logan for two years when then blues hockey player Kelly Chase came to me with a rib injury. During my treatment time, I contacted the trainer to discuss the injury. The coach appreciated the call and asked me to see another player with a back injury. That was the beginning of my 22-year relationship with the blues.
Williams: Stay in your lane. I am a chiropractor and I do. Whenever I notice problems outside of my area of activity, I go straight to the sports director and discuss it, regardless of what I know.
Why is a prominent presence in professional sport important for the chiropractic profession as a whole?
Bitch: Chiropractic is an important part of the sports medicine continuum, and involvement at the professional level gives our profession legitimacy and credibility. For example, there have been a couple of times that patients have been referred to me and said, “I don’t believe in chiropractic, but you work with the bears, so you have to be good at what you do.”
Williams: When the general public realizes that professional teams have a chiropractor on staff to take care of the highly paid athletes, it adds value to all chiropractors. I feel that I represent my profession in what I do and I take that very seriously.
What’s your biggest piece of advice to other DCs looking to get into professional sports?
Bitch: Experience is the key. The best thing I did to prepare for this opportunity was working with my high school alma mater. Working in an athletic environment, even on a small scale, was a great preparation for professional sports rehab and work in the NFL. Everyone in the workforce has something different to offer in an injury situation, and working with high school teams taught me to be a team player.
Williams: Get to know the team’s medical staff. There are times when players need someone out of season and sometimes players find their own chiropractor outside of the team. When treating a professional athlete, introduce yourself to the medical team so they can get to know you. For the chiropractor who wants to get involved, contact the senior sports coach at high schools, universities, and colleges.
Which path did you take to get to where you are today?
Bitch: I played college softball, and chiropractic and Active Release Technique (ART) were vital parts of keeping me on the field. During my career, I wanted to offer other athletes the influence that chiropractic had on me as an athlete. I chose Logan University because it was the most innovative and forward-looking of the chiropractic schools and it also had an advanced sports medicine department. Also, I knew it was important to be certified in ART, so I worked towards earning that certification throughout the school. After graduation, I worked at a Chicago clinic that professionally rehabilitated and mentored many professional teams in Chicago, where I was given the opportunity to work with the Bears. As a clinic director, I am now focused on leading and growing Advanced Care Specialists in Wisconsin.
Murphy: I graduated from the University of Windsor with a degree in human kinetics, then worked on various athletics and hockey teams as a coach and exercise physiologist before joining Logan. In addition to working with the Blues, I own a private practice in St. Louis – Performance Chiropractic – practice hockey in the area and teach sports injuries and orthopedics for Logan’s postgraduate division. Previously, I was the official NFL team chiropractor for the St. Louis Rams (2001-16), St. Louis Sting Junior Hockey NAHL, Nike Gateway Classic on the Lake Forest CC Nike Tour, the Missouri River Otters UHL and St. Louis Athletica Women’s professional soccer.
Williams: I graduated from college with double degrees in finance and international business. After working at a bank in my hometown for 10 months, I realized that my calling was in chiropractic. Switching from the business finance course to biochemistry wasn’t easy, but like any dream, if you dearly want it, you can find a way to get it done. After graduating from Logan, I worked in a practice in North Carolina for several years before moving to Tampa where I opened my own practice and then another one that I retired from in October 2020.
NICOLE SCHULENBURG writes about chiropractic for Logan University.