Chiropractic for the Young Athlete

A healthy and properly aligned spine will contribute to greater sports performance and fewer injuries. Young athletes should get their spine checked by a chiropractor while they are still growing to correct any problems and help avoid injuries.

What does a chiropractor look for during an initial chiropractic exam of a young athlete?

Dr. Gregg Rubinstein: That’s a great question. The things that we look for in a young athlete are kind of the same things that we would look for in an adult athlete. One of the things that is important to understand is that alignment and structure really dictate function, so the better the structure and the better alignment, the better a person can function. Obviously, when a young athlete comes in, we’re going to look at posture and range of motion and check the athlete for misalignments in the spine, which we call subluxations, because specifically, when the bones misalign and pinch or irritate the nerves that they’re actually designed to protect, it can cause a slowdown in nerve transmission. It can create erroneous messages communicated from the brain to the rest of the body.

When an athlete is trying to coordinate specific movements and functions, the faster the communication in the body, the better they’re going to be able to execute those things. It’s basically when a pilot steps out of the plane and does the walk-around and checks the whole plane before he takes off. We’re going to do the same thing with the athlete. We’re going to check the range of motion, we’re going to look at the alignment. We’re going to make sure that the mechanics of the spine are working well and the mechanics of the body are good. It’s really a way to make sure that their athletic performance is optimized and to make sure that they’re safe to perform at a high level and that they’re not in any risk for injury.

Can a spine that is not in alignment adversely affect an athlete’s performance?

Dr. Gregg Rubinstein: Absolutely. Some people may have heard the old adage that as the twig is bent, so grows the tree. Alignment is extremely important, especially when people are growing and developing. A young athlete still has open growth plates, so if the alignment of the spine or any of the joints that have open growth plates is not properly aligned, you’re going to see distortion in the way it grows, and that can cause scoliosis and misalignments that can lead to problems later in life. It can slow down performance because if the mechanics aren’t good, then the product isn’t going to be good. Just like an auto mechanic, he’s going to tune up a car so it performs better. I’m going to tune up a spine in the body so they can perform better, and that’s really so important.

One of the people that’s very famous and known to be a big chiropractic advocate was Joe Montana. He was a quarterback out for the San Francisco 49ers, and he would never take the field without getting adjusted. He used to say the last thing he did before he put on his shoulder pads was actually get adjusted by the chiropractor so it could enhance his performance, and that would give him a little bit of an edge. Even the slightest edge in competition is still an edge over your competition.

Will chiropractic care and treatment help young athletes avoid overuse injury?

Dr. Gregg Rubinstein: Absolutely, and that’s a really good question to ask because typically, people will see overuse injuries like tennis elbow or tendonitis or arthritis, all these things that happen from repetitive stress injuries, which is doing the same movement perhaps with faulty biomechanics. If the biomechanics of the body are off, secondary to poor alignment, you’re going to start to see poor performance, and the body’s not going to perform the way you want to.

Just like if the front end of my car isn’t lined up right, yeah, the car will still drive, but you know what? Eventually the tires are going to start to wear funny. It’ll mess up the U joints, it’ll mess up the steering column if it’s not corrected right away. Correcting small, aberrant biomechanical problems early, before they become bigger ones, is going to be huge and really have a large impact on the athlete as they grow.

You mentioned growth plates, but young athletes are still growing, so in what ways can chiropractic care help ensure proper growth and development?

Dr. Gregg Rubinstein: Well, again, we kind of alluded to that a little bit before and really that it’s so much more about making sure that every stage of growth and development, which is controlled by the nerve system, goes on without a hitch. Again, it’s about the alignment. If things are misaligned and you put uneven pressure on the growth plates, you might see scoliosis or you might see some other differences in the spine the way it grows and develops.

Avoiding overuse injuries is important, but to ensure proper growth and development, it doesn’t matter if they’re an athlete or not. Making sure the spine is in proper alignment as it grows is so important, because, again, that adage, as the twig is bent, so grows the tree. We want to make sure that every athlete, in every stage of growth and development, is in proper alignment so they can perform at their best and really make sure that there are no problems on those growth plates. Taking care of small problems early can prevent a lot of big problems later.

If an athlete does get injured, how can chiropractic care help with their rehabilitation?

Dr. Gregg Rubinstein: Well, for many of those athletes, if you’re playing football and you get tackled, it can certainly misalign some of the spinal bones and create those subluxations, which puts pressure on the nerves. As a chiropractor, I don’t particularly specialize in sports injuries. That’s not my area of expertise, so sometimes if someone needs rehabilitation, I might actually refer them to a physical therapist who might be better suited to care for that particular problem. But if it’s spine-related and within the chiropractic realm, then we can help get that spine straighter, stronger, and get them feeling better and back on the field. The better shape they’re in and the better alignment, the less likely they are to have injuries in the future.

I’m not specifically a rehab specialist, but I can handle most of the stuff related to the spine. Other injuries and things like that, sometimes we just send them out to other experts and refer that out to an expert that we’ve known for many years. I’ve been in practice here almost 30 years in New York, and I’ve gained a lot of great relationships and met a lot of great doctors that I can refer out if someone needs specific rehab.

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