Nicholas Athens, DC, a chiropractor in San Carlos, Calif., has spent the last 30 years adjusting necks, spines, and various extremities on professional and everyday athletes. He has worked with pro football players for several decades, including Joe Montana, Jerry Rice, and Tom Brady. Athens sees chiropractic care as another key component in the comprehensive fitness and health wellness regimens for today’s competitive athlete.
In an article in our sister publication, Training & Conditioning, Athens discussed the role of chiropractic care in athlete performance.
Why is chiropractic care appropriate for athletes?
“The whole premise of this profession is that the brain and nervous system run the body. If the spinal vertebrae are misaligned they can impinge the nerves, which can not only cause discomfort, pain, and stiffness, but also cut off power to muscles and organs and reduce their output. When I check if a player's spine is out of alignment, I also check their extremities. But I only work on areas that they need help with. I won't just adjust something that's already stable and in alignment.”
“As chiropractors, we correct subluxations, which is when a bone is out of alignment and impinging the nervous system. By using my hands to mechanically readjust a joint and/or the spine, I can reduce subluxations and return the athlete to proper alignment, which improves the function of the body from the inside out.”
How long is a typical session with an athlete?
“About 10 minutes. I have an assistant who does some soft tissue work first, then the athlete comes to my table and I do the necessary exam and adjustment. Relief typically sets in within 10 to 15 minutes. The soft tissue work and adjustment work improve the function of the body and the flow of muscle fibers almost immediately.”
What's your biggest frustration about the perception of your profession?
“If a patient has an unproductive chiropractic experience, they are apt to say, ‘I went to a chiropractor and it didn't work,’ not realizing that they might have just gone to a bad chiropractor. There is good and bad in any profession, and you simply have to find a good chiropractor.
“I know that when I work on patients, I'm usually giving them their first exposure to our profession. If I give them good results, I'm representing my profession at the highest standard, and they'll recommend chiropractic care to others.”
What are some other common misconceptions you hear?
"I heard that if you go to a chiropractor once, you have to keep going in order for it to work. In actuality, you don't have to do anything. You don't have to eat right, you don't have to work out, and you don't have to get massages or do any of those healthy things. But they're probably good for you, especially if you keep doing them. It's a good idea to work out and eat right on a regular basis, and it's a good idea to see a chiropractor regularly. It's recommended, but it's not mandatory to be effective--it's a lot like taking a car in for regular tune-ups.
“To tell you the truth, I hear most of those skepticisms from doctors, not the public. It's not unusual for me to save two to three people a week from having to undergo spinal surgery because of successful chiropractic treatment. What I've found is that I can either help someone or have no effect—but I don't ever make them worse. So what's the harm in trying it, especially if surgery is the alternative?”
How has your profession evolved over the last few years?
“A lot of today's chiropractors do a lot more soft tissue work, stretching, and laser work. I'm more from the old school as far as concentrating on adjusting the vertebrae and extremities to take pressure off the nerves. There are several different techniques used by chiropractors nowadays, but I'm still more of a hands-on practitioner. The players seem to respond well to my techniques.”