Chiropractic Care for Sports Injuries

Chiropractic care can help relieve pain from sports injuries.

Chiropractic care can help relieve pain from sports injuries without drugs or surgery.

Are you aware that each year (1):

  • Over 30 million individuals (both adults and adolescents) engage in active sports activities?
  • 2 million sports related injuries are reported in high school athletes each year that contributes to over 500,000 emergency center visits and over 31,000 hospital admissions.
  • Contact sports account for most of the injuries (football -28%, baseball – 25%, soccer – 22%, basket ball- 15%, softball – 12%) in adolescents.
  • Overuse or abuse of connective tissue elements accounts for nearly 50% sports injuries
  • Lower limbs are involved in over 46.5% of all sports related activities followed by back injuries in 10%, upper limb injuries in 18% and head/ neck trauma in 3.6% (3).

The above statistics invariably looks horrifying but according to the reports and recommendations of CDC (Center for Disease Control), approximately half of all the sports injuries can be prevented with proper training and conditioning exercises.

What are some common sports injuries?

Sports or exercise is an effective method of maintaining health and wellness. One of the reasons why most adults exercise or engage in sports is to maintain physical fitness and strengthen bones or connective tissue elements. Although the benefits of exercise or sports are numerous, there is always a risk of injuries with strenuous exercise or active/contact sports. Most sports related injuries are a product of carelessness, poor practice or excessive stress or strain on unsupported tissues.

Joints injuries are most serious and muscle sprain are most common form of sports injuries. Virtually any element of musculoskeletal system may get affected in the injury process. For example:

  • Ligaments are supporting elements that aim at limiting the activity of joints to prevent tissue/ bone damage. Common pattern of ligamentous injuries are tearing and sprain. Weak ligaments are a product of chronic inflammation due to untreated minor injuries.
  • Muscles may undergo spasms, tearing of fibers, sprain, stiffening, infection and inflammatory damage. Most common cause is abuse or misuse of muscles.
  • Bone injuries are usually serious and include fracture, dislocation, infection (osteomyleitis), inflammation (arthritis). Most common cause is trauma. Stress fracture is another pattern of bone injury in which the bone gets cracked due to excessive pressure on the normal bone.
  • Tendon is the connective tissue element that connects the muscle with the bone. Tendon injuries include inflammation (tendonitis), bursitis (inflammation of bursa)

Why do you need chiropractic care for sports related injuries?

Every athlete (professional or non-professional) wants to maintain steady and excellent performance for which absolute fitness is a must. But every athlete is susceptible to get injuries that may compromise fitness (temporarily or permanently). There are several benefits of utilizing chiropractic care for the management of acute or chronic sports injuries; a few are listed below:

  • Most surgical options can significantly increase the risk of permanent joint or tissue damage due to surgical procedure itself or due to unseen/unpredicted complications or adverse events like infection ultimately compromising the range of motion and flexibility of joints.
  • Most common medical approach to manage sports related injuries is administration of non-steroidal anti-inflammatory agents. Although, you may feel that pain relievers are absolutely necessary for the management of symptoms, you should know that NSAIDs have very little role in the treatment of injuries. Latest research also suggested that excessive use of NSAIDs in active injury can interfere with the healing process. Fortunately, chiropractic professionals utilize holistic methods to reduce inflammation that ultimately reduces swelling and pain without hazardous pain-killers.
  • Most healthcare providers have limited knowledge about the role of nutrition in the management and prevention of sports injuries. It has been observed that a fair amount of sports injuries can be attributed to weak bones due to inappropriate nutrition or excessive dieting (especially in athletes who participate in Olympics).

How can chiropractors help?

Chiropractic professionals are trained healthcare providers who are qualified in identifying, managing and treating sports related injuries in addition to educating athletes about the strategies that can reduce the risk of future injuries.

Preventive chiropractic strategies:

1. Chiropractic professionals educate the sports personnel regarding proper warm up exercises that can significantly reduce the risk of future incidents.

2. Exercises and conditioning techniques suggested by chiropractic professionals aims at strengthening smaller group of muscles that are generally missed during main-stream exercise training. In fact, smaller group of muscles are at much higher risk of injuries than strong bulky muscles because of poor support and immense pressure of bulky muscles that leads to inflammatory process and tissue injuries. Chiropractic exercises mainly helps in strengthening and supporting small groups of muscles.

Jon Schwartzbauer (7) and his associates provided chiropractic care (exercises and chiropractic adjustments) to 21 basketball players. After 3 sessions (at first, fifth and fourteenth week), the players showed remarkable improvement in various parameters (like long distance jumping, muscle strength, exercise endurance and maintenance of heart rate and pulse after strenuous exercise) as compared to the control group.

Management of sports injuries by chiropractic strategies:

– Ice compresses or warm compresses:

As mentioned previously, pain, swelling and active inflammation is not only discomforting but also interfere with the natural healing process. Chiropractic techniques reduce the reliance on pain killers and anti-inflammatory drugs by utilizing holistic modalities like cold compresses (that reduces pain and swelling) and warm compresses (that improve tissue blood circulation to hasten recovery) alternately.

– Elevation of limb:

In addition, chiropractors also use simple anatomical and physiological principles like limb elevation to reduce swelling and discomfort.

– Compression of tissue:

Excessive tissue swelling can interfere with the normal circulation and therefore manual or physical compression is helpful in certain cases. It is imperative to understand that a complete understanding of situation is needed before taking these important interventional decisions.

– Immobilization with passive exercises:

In case of moderate to severe sports injuries, low activity (or immobilization in some cases) is needed. Rest or low activity is usually suggested to minimize the inflammation and to hasten recovery; however, for more severe injuries, passive exercises are usually advised after a few weeks (or after initial inflammatory phase). Early initiation of passive exercises is helpful in improving the pace of healing and early restoration of range of motion.

Chiropractic Treatment strategies for sports injuries:

Chiropractic professionals believe that each injury is different and distinct (and therefore can affect the strength and health of joints in different ways). Therefore, unlike most medical doctors who advise same pharmacological agents for a wide variety of injuries, chiropractors evaluate every case of sport injury in detail in order to advise one or more of the following treatment modalities:

– Joint manipulation:

In a number of cases when the joint integrity is compromised as a result of injury, manual joint manipulation is an excellent strategy to resume the anatomical and physiological continuity. This will reduce the pain, swelling and active inflammation (thereby improve the pace of tissue healing)

– Active exercises:

Most severe injuries culminate in tissue fibrosis that present as limited range of motion. Imagine how distressing it is to not being able to perform up to your full potential due to “frozen or stiff” joint. Chiropractic exercises helps in early restoration of range of motion with the help of active and passive exercises. The maneuvers are not only helpful in the conditioning of tissues but also in regaining and improving strength and flexibility.

– Active Release Technique (ART)

ART is an effective chiropractic technique that aims at improving the range of motion in running injuries. It involves manual stretching of limb with therapeutic massage to release tension and adhesions in the tissues as a result of trauma or resulting inflammation

– Graston Technique:

In situations where disorderly scar tissue limits the movement or activity across a limb or joint, this chiropractic technique is employed to release the scar tissue or adhesions formed as a result of trauma.

All these therapies are complemented with or without different combinations of physical therapy, deep tissue massaging, Electrical muscle stimulation (EMS), Functional dry needling and other goal directed therapies to restore functionality of musculoskeletal elements.

A lot of professional sports teams are now taking the help of professional sports chiropractors. For example according to a latest report published in the peer reviewed Journal of Manipulative and Physiological Therapeutics (5), almost 31% of all US professional teams have sports chiropractors as a part of permanent staff while approx. 12% teams use the services of chiropractors indirectly for the prevention and management of sports injuries. According to the reports of Matthew A. Davis (6), approximately 57% rise has been observed in number of patients seeking the help of chiropractors for sports related injuries.


1. van Mechelen, W., Hlobil, H., & Kemper, H. C. (1992). Incidence, severity, aetiology and prevention of sports injuries. Sports Medicine, 14(2), 82-99.
2. JS Powell, KD Barber Foss, 1999. Injury patterns in selected high school sports: a review of the 1995-1997 seasons. J Athl Train. 34: 277-84.
3. Kazemi, M., Shearer, H., & Choung, Y. S. (2005). Pre-competition habits and injuries in Taekwondo athletes. BMC Musculoskeletal Disorders, 6(1), 26.
4. Baby Boomer Sports Injuries, U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission, April 2000
5. Stump, J. L., & Redwood, D. (2002). The use and role of sport chiropractors in the National Football League: A short report. Journal of Manipulative and Physiological Therapeutics, 25(3), 1-4.
6. Davis, M. A., Sirovich, B. E., & Weeks, W. B. (2010). Utilization and expenditures on chiropractic care in the United States from 1997 to 2006. Health services research, 45(3), 748-761.
7. Jon Schwartzbauer, D. C., Kolber, J., Mitzi Schwartzbauer, D. C., John Hart, D. C., & Zhang, J. (1997). Athletic performance and physiological measures in baseball players following upper cervical chiropractic care: a pilot study. Journal of Vertebral Subluxation Research, 1(4), 1.

Chiropractic Care for Sports Injuries was last modified: January 29th, 2014 by Dr. Patrick McCluskey