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Chiropractic Care in Sport Performance

Updated: Jun 19, 2019

This guest post is written by Erik Smith, who will be studying Human Kinetics/Biology at the University of Guelph this year. His goal is to become a chiropractor like his father, Dr. Phil Smith.

Better performance.

It is something that every athlete wants to achieve regardless of his or her sport, age, lifestyle or league. Better performance is not just reached through hard work and practice. It is vital to have professionals in one’s life who specialize in treating or caring for athletes. A chiropractor is a doctor that diagnoses and treats the misalignment of joints through manipulation. Chiropractors mainly focus on the joints of the spinal column, where misalignment can cause other disorders by affecting the nerves, muscles and organs of the human body. Although this type of practice has been used on patients for years, new research is beginning to show that athletes who are treated by a chiropractor have distinct advantages over other athletes when it comes to motor function. Such advantages include better muscle stimulation, increased running velocity, improved accuracy in free throw shooting, increased grip strength and the prevention of sport-related injuries. Through all of this evolving research, it is easy to see why ultimately, chiropractic care is a large contributor to successful performance in a variety of different sports.

Improves Muscle Stimulation

Firstly, the manipulation technique utilized by chiropractors has been seen to improve muscle stimulation during voluntary contraction. A recent study sought to investigate possible neural plastic changes with spinal manipulation by measuring H-reflexes and V-waves. Neural plastic changes allow nerve cells in the brain to adjust their activities in response to changes in their environment. These changes often result in the firing of muscles. The H-reflex is an electrically evoked response that is extremely similar to stretch reflexes. This is useful to assess motoneuron excitability, specifically during voluntary muscular contraction. The V-wave is a variant of the H-reflex and can be recorded during maximal voluntary motor contractions. The V-wave response is used to reflect the way motoneurons travel through the spinal column during maximal voluntary contraction. All participants in the study were men, between the ages of 18 and 40 and were required to have evidence of spinal dysfunction. Surface electromyography was utilized by chiropractic doctors to record the neuron activity of the soleus muscle in the right leg. Electrical stimulation producing the H and V-waves of the soleus muscle was created through stimulation of the tibial nerve. Force recordings were performed using a strain gauge while the subjects performed maximum voluntary ankle dorsiflexion contractions. For the treatment group, the entire spine and sacroiliac joints were assessed for dysfunction and adjusted where deemed necessary by a chiropractor using high-velocity, low-amplitude techniques. The control group method involved passive and active movements of the subject’s head, spine, and body into the manipulation setup positions but without performing the adjustment. After the study, results were published as follows: maximal voluntary contraction increased significantly by 59.5% after spinal manipulation and decreased significantly by 13.3% after control. Also, the V-wave amplitude increased significantly by 45% after spinal manipulation and reduced significantly by 23% after control (Niazi, I, 2015). The improvements in maximal voluntary contraction following spinal manipulation can be extremely useful to an athlete because their muscles will be able to fire more quickly, enabling them to reach an optimum level of performance. Every sport involves muscle contractions, which is why this research proves that through the process of chiropractic care, better performance can be reached.

Improves Handgrip Strength

Chiropractic treatment also increases grip strength and free-throw accuracy in basketball. Handgrip strength is extremely important when gripping the ball for dunking, lay ups, defensive maneuvers and other tasks. Free throw accuracy is a fundamental skill required in basketball. The correlation between the utilization of chiropractic care and free-throw accuracy in twenty-four asymptotic male basketball players were compared in a recent study. Each player was right-handed. Once selected, the participants tested their dominant handgrip strength and performed twenty free throws from the baseline. The players were then assigned into two groups: a CMT (chiropractic manipulative treatment) group who underwent lower cervical spine adjustments at C-5 and C-6, (C= Cervical) and a placebo CMT group who had an Activator device set at zero force in the set up position (no adjustment or manipulation was actually performed). An Activator is a small, hand-held device that delivers a gentle impulse to the spine in order to re-align and restore motion to the vertebrae. The results demonstrated that spinal manipulation enhances muscle relaxation, which allows for a greater concentration of the athlete when shooting the free throw. There was a significant improvement in handgrip strength and a 13.2% increase in free throw accuracy in those that had been manipulated in the CMT group. Based on this study, it can be concluded that there is a direct relationship between the increase in the percentage of free throw accuracy and the individuals who obtained chiropractic care (Humphries, K, 2015). Further studies also support the improvement of sport-related tasks as a result of chiropractic manipulative therapy. Although the individuals sampled in this study were comprised of healthy recreational basketball players that did not exhibit neck or back pain, significant results were still revealed following the chiropractic treatment. Therefore, the article suggests that athletes with neck pain or restricted spinal motions would have even higher quality reactions in comparison to those assessed within the study. Overall, chiropractic adjustment techniques have a large impact on enhancing sport performance for the fundamental skills of basketball.

Improves Hip Extension and Flexibility

Hip extension and flexibility can also be improved through chiropractic care in order to increase running velocity. Running velocity combines step frequency with the length of the stride. Through chiropractic treatment, better hip extension can be achieved from aligning the sacroiliac and hip joints. An increase in the ability to extend one’s hip improves overall flexibility, which in turn produces a longer running stride. In a research study conducted for the Journal of Chiropractic Medicine, seventeen healthy male junior athletes who were training in middle distance running were recruited to see if chiropractors could improve their running velocity. The participants were aged seventeen to twenty years old. Both flexibility and hip extension were tested in each athlete before and after the period of study. The participants were randomized into a treatment group and non-treatment group. The treatment group who received chiropractic care was checked for restrictive joint functions. Prior to the study, it was theorized that the treatment could contribute to an increased step length by adjusting these joint restrictions to improve the kinetic link when running. The adjusting procedure used was called “high velocity, low amplitude manipulation”. Thrusting the posterior superior iliac spine in a posterior to anterior motion targeted the sacroiliac joint. Both the treatment group and the control group trained as they usually did for the study period. The total hip extension ability increased significantly for the treatment group by an average of over four degrees, whereas the control group’s hip extension stayed within an average of the same degree. Also, the average change in time for a thirty-metre running start was sixty-five milliseconds for the treatment group (a significant change in a short running event) and only three milliseconds for the control group. For a decrease in overall running time, the data shows that the group who utilized chiropractic care increased their running velocity. Although further studies are still being conducted, this research builds the foundation that chiropractic treatment helps an athlete increase their running velocity through the means of increasing their hip extension ability (Sandell, J, 2008).

Improves Prevention and Rehabilitation to Sport Injuries

Adjustments issued by chiropractic doctors exhibit a positive role in preventing and rehabilitating sport-related injuries to improve performance. Functional disturbances in the vertebral column affect both joint mobility and muscular coordination. These dysfunctions can put an athlete at a higher risk of injury and also cause a decrease in performance, due to restrictions in their range of motion. New research has set out to prove whether manipulation from chiropractors could reduce and prevent such injuries. Chiropractors have been sought by athletes due to this research. For example, the United States has officially used chiropractors as a part of their staff in the Olympic Games since 1980. Also, 77% of coaches from the National Football League refer athletes to chiropractic care and 31% of the teams have an official team chiropractic doctor on their medical staff (Botelho, M, 2011). Professional athletes are beginning to understand the power of this type of treatment when it comes to sport performance. A journal entitled: Possibilities and limits of manual medicine in sports, focused on this subject specifically. According to a survey from this journal, 81% of those surveyed indicated that they believe manual medical techniques are important when treating sport-related injuries. Furthermore, 73% were convinced that the injuries are to reduce as a result of the treatment and 81% believed that a performance improvement could be achieved. Another survey was conducted on patients with shoulder trauma due to spinal dysfunction. It found that after “immediate chiropractic treatment”, 10% of patients were symptom-free and 25% showed reduced pain with improved function/range of motion. Out of all the studies and surveys referenced in the journal, it was said that, “A negative influence of manual medicine in this regard is not to be recognized” (Klett, R, 2014). This means that only positive benefits of chiropractic care have been proven for both short-term and long-term with respect to athletic performance. In all, prevention and rehabilitation of sports injuries can be greatly and positively influenced by chiropractic adjustments.

Improves Grip Strength

Finally, the grip strength of judo athletes can be improved as a direct result of chiropractic manipulation. While grip strength is utilized in many different sports, it has a particular significance in judo. The goal of a judo fight is to unbalance an opponent using different holding techniques and leverage. Increased grip strength can enhance judo performance because the athlete will be able to have a stronger hold on his or her opponent. A study that investigated the effects of cervical spine manipulation on the grip strength of judo athletes can be referenced to prove this. Eighteen judo athletes on a Brazilian national team consisting of both sexes were chosen to participate. The subjects were randomly placed into two groups of nine. The first group received spine manipulative therapy while the second group received sham procedures. This is the same as placebo, where the necessary or manipulative step is omitted. The subjects were required to have never received chiropractic care in the past and to possess no knowledge of procedures of the profession. The spine manipulative therapy group’s procedure consisted of static and motion analysis of the cervical joints. While the patient was lying in a supine position, motion restricted areas were given specific high-velocity, low-amplitude techniques. This was repeated for a total of three interventions. The results of this study showed a significant increase of grip strength in both hands after the first intervention (an average 6.5% increase on the left hand and 12.61% on the right hand). After the third intervention, the results were even more staggering. There was a final 10.53% increase of grip strength on the right hand and 16.82% increase on the left hand. The sham group showed no statistical increase in grip strength throughout the three interventions (Botelho, M, 2011). The significant increase seen in the treatment group can be traced through the kinetic link, starting with the biceps muscles firing as a result of neurotransmitters from C-5, C-6 and C-7 (C= Cervical) vertebrae. The firing of the biceps activates anterior muscled in the forearm and thumb short muscles, along with the ulnar nerve whose signals can be traced back to T-1 (Thoracic Vertebrae 1). As these joints and vertebrae are re-aligned in the neck, the motoneurons are able to fire at a greater force, enabling a stronger grip. Through this research, it is seen that chiropractic treatment affects grip strength in judo athletes.

Chiropractic Care in Sport Performance is the Healthy Option

In summary, chiropractic care is a large contributor to optimal success in sport performance. Increased muscle stimulation, better free-throw accuracy in basketball, increased hip-extension to improve running velocity, prevention and rehabilitation of sport injuries, and the increased grip strength of judo athletes all occur as a direct result of chiropractic manipulation. With all of these points considered, it is clear to see that a high level of sport performance can be greatly enhanced by chiropractors everywhere. This is why there is an increased demand for doctors of this profession from both amateur and professional sports teams. The athletes who utilize this type of therapy have been highly successful in their sports. Usain Bolt, the world’s fastest man, is just one of the many examples of high-level athletes who recognize a chiropractor as part of their success (Chirobeans). Sean Atkins, a PhD Exercise Physiologist, says “I would estimate that at least 90% of world class athletes use Chiropractic on a regular basis to prevent injuries and improve their performance”. If these high-level athletes are benefitting from chiropractic care, there will soon be more young and recreational athletes following suit. Further research in this field is in progress. In a world where harmful substances are being used to gain advantages, it is refreshing to know that a healthy option is available.



Botelho, M., & Andrade, B. (2011). Effect of Cervical Spine Manipulative Therapy on Judo Athletes’ Grip Strength. Journal of Manipulative and Physiological Therapeutics Home, volume 35, issue 1. Retrieved from

Humphries, K., & Ward, J., Coats, J., et al. (2013). Immediate effects of lower cervical spine manipulation on handgrip strength and free-throw accuracy of asymptomatic basketball players: a pilot study. Journal of Chiropractic Medicine, volume 12. Retrieved from

Klett, R. (2014). Possibilities and Limitations of Manual Medicine in Sport. Springer Link, volume 52, issue 2. Retrieved from

Niazi, I., & Turker, K., & Flavel, S., et al. (2015). Changes in H-reflex and V-waves following spinal manipulation. Springer Link, volume 233, issue 4. Retrieved from

Sandell, J., & Palmgren, P., & Bjorndahl, L. (2008). Effect of chiropractic treatment on hip extension ability and running velocity among young male running athletes. Journal of Chiropractic Medicine, volume 7, issue 2. Retrieved from

The fastest men on earth receive chiropractic treatment. (N.d.). Retrieved 05 June 2016 from

Keeping athletes in the game with chiropractic

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