The term “athlete” encompasses a massive spectrum of constituents. Membership in the club is hardly exclusive and ranges from the three year-old T-baller to the Olympian performing at the highest level of competition. Without exception…well, almost without exception as little Jack the T-baller might not yet have that killer instinct…athletes continually seek a competitive advantage. One competitive advantage that is trending upward among athletes is the use of chiropractic care for improved performance.
In general, quantifying the benefit of the countless tactics used to enhance athletic performance is a futile undertaking. It is improbable if not impossible to incrementally calculate added benefits of performance boosters. In fact, in the professional sports realm if something is simply perceived as a performance enhancer then it is generally defined as such.
Why is this the case? In short, it results from the fact that the specific mechanisms through which performance is improved are often unknown and heavily debated.
In contrast, the mechanism through which chiropractic care improves athletic performance is simple: “where chiropractic truly excels is in its ability to actually improve performance, since it is through the full use of the nervous system that peak performance can be achieved.” (1)
As the control center of the human body, the nervous system regulates and coordinates each and every function of the body. This biological fact makes the nervous system inarguably the most important unit of the human body. Spinal misalignments have been proven to wreak havoc on this control system resulting in decreased function and a reduction in overall health. Chiropractic treatment, as a means to eliminate these spinal misalignments is therefore invaluable for improving overall function and health in the human body.
These improvements in function can manifest in several ways in athletes. One functional parameter, muscle inhibition, has been shown to be reduced in individuals after undergoing chiropractic care. Muscle inhibition occurs when there is a breakdown in communication between the brain and the muscle itself. If muscle inhibition occurs the muscle cannot completely contract and thus is firing at less than full capacity. This renders the control of muscle contraction highly inefficient when muscle inhibition is present. In 2000, Suter et al. found that after a chiropractic adjustment of the sacroiliac joint, muscle inhibition was markedly decreased in the legs of the involved group. Similarly, in 2002 Suter and McMorland determined that significant decreases were found in muscle inhibition in the triceps muscle groups following cervical spine adjustments. These improvements in muscle efficiency portend elevated performance in athletes.(1)
Likewise, the force of muscle contraction is vital to athletic performance. Pollard and Ward found that short-term increases in muscle strength were realized subsequent to chiropractic adjustments in the lumbar spine. In fact, an increase of 3.03 Newton’s (4.6% higher than before the adjustment) was recognized as potentially beneficial to “the performance of strength athletes.”(1) It is reasonable to conclude that chiropractic adjustments that increase functional strength of skeletal muscle would be optimal for the peak performance of any athlete.
The premise that chiropractic care can decrease reaction times has been tested as well by several investigators. Reaction time represents the interval between the introduction of a cognitive stimulus and the body’s response in the form of a motor function. In 2000, Kelly et al. determined that reaction times decreased in subjects immediately following cervical spine adjustments. Similarly, Taylor and Murphy discovered improved sensorimotor integration as well as improved response of the central nervous system to a functional task directly following chiropractic adjustments. The link between decreased sensorimotor reaction times and enhanced athletic performance is easy to bridge.
More often than not, athletic performance is reactionary in nature. Reaction time is essential for a batter facing a pitcher that has a multitude of speeds and planes with which he can throw a pitch. In fact the difference between a hall of fame player and someone that never even sniffs the field in Major League Baseball is measured in reaction differences of hundredths of a second. Improved reaction times allow for improved performance.
The literature points to decreased muscle inhibition (increased muscle efficiency), increased muscle strength and decreased reaction times following chiropractic adjustments. Each of the aforementioned gains subsequent to chiropractic adjustments herald improved performance in the athlete.
What does all of this mean to you? It’s simple. Before you reach for the supplement that claims to improve performance but harbors a litany of toxic chemicals, give your chiropractor a shot at improving your performance at the field, on the course and in the gym.
1. Miners AL. Chiropractic treatment and the enhancement of sport performance: a narrative literature review. J Can Chiropr Assoc. 2010; 54(4):210-221.