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By profession, I’m a chiropractor. During the day, I treat people with lower back strains, sciatica, migraine headaches, neck injuries. Everyday life can do a lot of damage to the spine.
By avocation, I’m an amateur bike racer. I love bicycling and ride whenever I can.
I’m also lucky: I now combine both parts of my life. For the past several years, I’ve helped cyclists who race in Philadelphia’s professional races every June. And now I’m the team chiropractor for the Jelly Belly Professional Cycling Team.
I’m doing this because most doctors don't understand athletes, what they need, what motivates them and the damage they do to their bodies. I understand all this, and view my role with this group as a challenge to my skills. I continue studying to keep up with new procedures.
One doctor who does understand professional athletes is the Jelly Belly team’s medical doctor, Helen Iams. She’s witnessed how other teams with chiropractors on board have benefited, and asked me to help out.
“I’m not trained to treat every condition,” she said to me. “Teaming up with a chiropractor seemed to be a great way to expand the team’s medical coverage. I needed a chiropractor who understood high-level athletes.”
Are they ever. The season started on January 29th with training camp in Lake San Marcos, California where I met the team riders, staff and sponsors. While the riders focused on honing their condition for the racing ahead, I focused on their biomechanical condition.
A cyclist’s history of injuries and trauma illustrates the difficulty of his or her career. There are broken collar bones, broken shoulder blades, broken hips and pelvises, dislocated and separated shoulders, concussions and all kinds of surgeries to repair those injuries. Nearly every athlete has some type of injury! What I often find is that the surgeries and treatments for those injuries are “successful” but they leave the rider with biomechanical problems. This leads to compensation patterns that affect performance.
At camp I evaluated the riders for those types of problems. Just like I do in my office, I evaluated posture, flexibility, range of motion and performed orthopedic tests. Camp also allowed me to go further in my evaluation; I could observe the riders on the bike. Some of them needed chiropractic care immediately. Those who suffered injuries in the off-season received spinal adjustments, extremity joint mobilizations and soft tissue therapy. Others needed the help to straighten out the kinks caused by traveling long distances to be here and others just wanted a “tune-up” so they could get the most out of the training.
To my delight, I was well received. Team member Nick Reistad told me that before, he just visited a chiropractor after an injury. “I would only go after I crashed to make sure that I didn’t knock myself out of alignment. Having a chiropractor on staff allows me to proactively tackle any problems I may have.”
As a pro, Reistad has to squeeze every last ounce of power out of his body. “Having a sturdy platform in my core allows my leg and back muscles to more effectively transfer muscle power into forward motion,” he said.
After camp it was off to the Tour of California – an eight-day stage race covering nearly 700 miles. When I arrived, I went straight to work. Several riders needed my help so they could be in perfect condition for the racing ahead. Team rider Jeremy Powers had just finished his cyclo-cross season in Europe and was happy to have a chiropractor around.
“When you are flying across the Atlantic Ocean in January, then to San Diego in February for training camp, followed by driving up to San Francisco to race the eight-day Tour of California, your back gets a little off,” Powers said. “Put in a couple of hard 20- hour training weeks just before the tour and you’ve got what started off as a small pain in your shoulder or neck, into a BIG problem. A chiropractor can straighten us out and really speed the recovery process more quickly than with stretching and massage alone. It’s made a noticeable difference in my recovery and pain management.”
During the Tour I worked on more than just the cyclists. The entire staff --three mechanics, soigneur, and team director -- all came to me for help. Stress, lifting equipment, and long hours spent in a car following the race can also do damage to the spinal column.
My skills will continue to be tested throughout the season. The team races nearly every week and often several times each week. With that much time on the bike there is a lot of potential for crashes and injuries.
A real test of my skills will come this June. The race in Philadelphia on June 10th is a top priority for the team and the riders need to be in perfect alignment and feeling great.
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