The Effects of Chiropractic Care on Sports Performance: Mind Over Body
Dr. Ryan Durand
During my years as a professional athlete, I always wondered why I had a superstition about getting chiropractic care before an event. I never kept tabs or logs on being adjusted and how I performed in a successive game, but I always felt incomplete without doing so. I do know that getting adjusted was of great importance to me and once my career in the NFL was over I became a chiropractor. In my curiosity as a student and new graduating doctor I wanted to find out what it was that made my body crave adjustments before competition.
My search for answers to how chiropractic effects sports performance led me to the book “The Reality Check” written by Dr. Heidi Haavik whom is a chiropractor and neuroscientist. Like myself, Dr. Haavik was curious about what effects the chiropractic adjustment had on the body. Going even further, what effects do the chiropractic adjustments have on the brain. The brain, which is the master controller of the entire body, dictates everything you do including the muscles and the coordination of these muscles’ movement.
When it comes to sports performance, all movements are coordinated by the brain. The higher learning center of the brain (cortex) learns new movement patterns and creates reflexive movement patterns (‘muscle memory’) in the cerebellum. Communication to the tissues in the body (like muscle) occurs through the spinal cord. The spinal cord is a super highway for nerve communication from the brain to the body which is housed within the spine. The primary function of the spine is movement and protection of the spinal cord. When the spine is not able to move properly, the ability of the brain to sense its environment is inhibited and higher cognitive demands like coordination of movement are inhibited. That is the short version of why we are interested in treating the spine.
Dr. Havvik makes a beautiful analogy to help explain how decreased spinal movement effects the ability of the brain to control the body. Imagine you have lived in a house all your life and at the end of a long hallway is your circuit breaker. One night the power goes out and having lived in that house all your life, you are easily able to walk down that long hall in the pitch black and reset the circuits. How would you fare if your child put a toy bicycle in the hall without you knowing? Would you make it to the circuit box without tripping? Eventually you would make it and turn on the power back on, but not without the high probability of tripping over the unknown obstacle. This is the analogy Dr. Haavik used to describe how a spinal fixation can be like a toy bike that the brain trips over because it cannot see down the hallway and assumes that nothing is blocking the path (1).
The brain is always analyzing data about our environment. It utilizes our five senses and the proprioceptors found throughout our body (mainly in muscles) and makes determinations based upon this information concerning our body’s current state. There are very small paraspinal muscles located around the spine that are known to be loaded with proprioceptors. These receptors are providing constant data to the brain about our body’s position. The spine is like the rudder of the brain; it allows the brain to sense where the body is in space. A portion of the proprioceptors located in the muscles are called spindle cells which detect muscular stretch; Dr. Havvik refers to them as “The eyes of the brain” (1). When an area of the spine is immobile, the muscle spindles found within those local paraspinal muscles are not able to communicate to the brain. The brain is blind to the spatial orientation in that area of the spine. Instead of shutting down, the brain will fill in the missing information the same way the brain does for our visual blind spot. Every person has a blind spot in their vision where the optic nerve enters the eye. We do not notice this blind spot because the brain fills in the missing visual information from input of the other eye and using assumptions based upon the environment. This can not be prevented but spinal fixation and immobility can. When there is fixation in the spine the brain is unable to receive 100% accurate data. Also, these spinal paraspinal muscles contain many pain sensors and can get triggered when there is spinal fixation (1).
The research in this book also points to how chiropractic care can positively affect the strength of muscular contractions, improve balance, prevent injury, reduce pain, etc (2-5). I recommend those who are curious about this topic to check out “The Reality Check” by Dr. Heidi Haavik. People that experience chiropractic care know that it works and experience ‘miracles’ every day. There is still so much for the medical community to discover about how the brain works and how chiropractic care can affect the nervous system. Research is still being conducted as we speak and hopefully more light can be shed on how chiropractic care can allow the brain to function optimally pushing the body to perform at peak levels.
1) Haavik, Heidi. The Reality Check. Haavik Research: 2014
2) Hawk, Pfefer, et. Al, “Feasibility Study of Short-term Effects of Chiropractic Care In Older Adults with Impaired Balance.” Journal of Chiropractic Medicine. Dec 2007; 6(4):121-131.
3) Hillermann, Gomes et. Al, “A Pilot Study Comparing the Effects of spinal Manipulative Therapy with Those of Extra-spinal Manipulative Therapy on Quadriceps Muscle Strength.” Journal of Manipulative Phisological Therapeutics. Feb 2006;30(23):2614-2620.
4) Qaseem, Amir, et. Al, “Noninvasive Treatments for Acute, Subacute, and Chronic Low Back Pain: A Clinical Practice Guideline From the American College of Physicians.” Clinical Guidelines Committee of the American College of Physicians. Apr 2017.
5) Suter, McMorland, et. Al, “Decrease in Quadriceps Imbibition After Sacroiliac Joint Manipulation in Patients With Anterior Knee Pain.” Journal or manipulative and Physiological Therapeutics. 1999; 22(3): 149-153.