The prevention and care of sports-related musculoskeletal injuries in middle and high school athletes is virtually ignored by traditional healthcare providers.
At the same time, no other profession is as equipped or qualified as chiropractic to care for this population.
Having dedicated my career to working with athletes—young athletes, especially—I know the challenges (and opportunities) around building a sports-oriented practice. If this is your goal, here’s what you need to know.
Step 1: Offer the right services
The cornerstone of my practice is a comprehensive biomechanical exam
I’ve developed for young athletes, based on my work over 25 years ago with the New York Giants. Noticing that care for players was focused on responding to injuries rather than preventing them, I developed a system of pinpointing biomechanical and structural weak- nesses in the body—weaknesses that could lead to injury. This includes a physical exam, digital foot scan, and four standing X-rays, two of the neck and two of the low back.
Whether you use these protocols (what I call the “Structural Fingerprint” exam) or develop a system of your own, I highly encourage you to adopt a prevention mindset.
Physical exam: Identify areas of imbalance, weakness, and abnormal loading. Evaluate joint mobility, muscular tension, leg length, knee alignment, and overall flexibility and restrictions of the body.
Digital foot exam: Scan your patients’ feet to determine if they’re a candidate for custom orthotics, whether an athlete presents with an injury or not. Foot imbalances produce abnormal mechanical loading on certain joints, tendons, and muscles; increase the likelihood of injury; and accelerate the breakdown or degeneration of parts of the body. If you do not address these imbalances, regardless of whatever else you do, your hard work on the table can be undone.
Imaging: Taking an X-ray, especially with the patient standing, provides a great deal of information regarding the person’s wear-and-tear patterns and biomechanical imbalances. In my practice, a standing X-ray is a critical part of every exam I perform on young athletes.
MRI: Taking X-rays shows the hard tissue and, when indicated, taking MRIs shows the soft tissue. Together they provide maximum information.
Treatment—whether for an acute injury or for wellness and prevention— incorporates adjustments, orthotics, and whatever other treatments, rehab, strength training, and nutrition is needed to get the job done. A sports practice can also offer cold laser therapy, spinal decompression, vibration therapy, kinesiology taping, and infrared sauna.
Parents will do anything to keep their child safe. So when they find a professional who performs comprehensive, high-tech evaluations with logical and in-depth explanations, they’re ecstatic. The alternative is a pediatrician who can only refer to the orthopedist, or an orthopedist who can only tell the athlete to rest (or refer to a physical therapist). A physical therapist can’t read X-rays or order MRIs, and can only treat the symptoms of injury until the insurance runs out.
Essentially, chiropractic has no competition in the sports injury– prevention market. “If you build it” in your practice (and market it correctly), “they will come.”
Step 2: Get the word out
No one will seek out your services if they don’t know you exist. Here are a few time-proven tips that have worked well for others.
Get Involved: Set up meetings with athletic directors and coaches and help them understand your sports-focused practice. Educate them about the services you offer, emphasizing your prevention-oriented approach. Volunteer your services for sports physicals prior to fall and spring sports seasons or offer them at a discounted price for team members.
Get talking: Further position yourself as an expert by offering to give talks on topics relevant to athletes and parents. For example: The dangers of steroid use in athletics; how posture affects performance (and how to improve it); how over-pronation puts athletes at risk (and how to treat it); how to use nutrition and supplements to naturally enhance the athlete’s game.
Get Marketing: Your website, e-newsletters, social media platforms, and on-hold or after-hours voicemail should consistently state you specialize in preventing and treating sports injuries. Challenge your staff to identify new avenues to get the word out. When you receive special training or new certifications, send out an email to let your patients know. Learn when sports seasons begin, and offer free screenings for biomechanical flaws and weight-bearing imbalances for patients and their friends.
Look the part: Your office should reflect your new (or growing) sports focus, from how you decorate your walls to the clothes you and your staff wear. Many famous athletes, across virtually every sport, have benefited from chiropractic care, such as Jordan Spieth and Tiger Woods in golf, champion runner Usain Bolt, and football legend Jerry Rice. Pictures of these public figures with testimonials in your waiting room reinforce the message to your athletic patients that they’ve come to the right place.
Get sporty: If you are going to focus on helping others get and stay fit, it’s important you walk the walk yourself. In addition to the personal satisfaction and health benefits exercise brings, involvement in athletics provides essential networking opportunities. Whether you’re out at the gym, playing tennis, biking, or running the track or trail, you’ll be able to meet prospective patients with interest in your services.
A focus on sports sets your patient base and practice apart. But don’t make the mistake of emulating the medical model—practicing reactive care only. Yes, patients will come to you with their sports injuries, but it’s neither fair to the patient nor good business to wait for injuries to occur. Chiropractic won’t win over the masses competing with the PTs, pediatricians, and orthopedists that way—you have to separate yourself from these groups by offer something different, something better. Prevention-oriented care is the right thing for patients, your practice, and the profession.
Tim Maggs, Dc, has been in practice nearly 40 years, and is the developer of the concerned Parents of Young Athletes (CPOYA) Network, with the goal of offering every middle and high school athlete a biomechanical exam prior to each sports season. the network, in partnership with Foot Levelers, provides training, resources, networking opportunities, and more for DCs interested in working with young athletes. Maggs can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org or through CPOYA.com.