T hroughout my travels I have had the opportunity to meet lots of great people in our profession. Many have been in practice for years, but some are in school, getting ready to graduate or just getting started. I’m often asked by these folks what it takes to build a sports chiropractic practice. The answer essentially revolves around three key ingredients. They are (1) education and training; (2) building strong internal and external relationships; and (3) hard work. So let’s jump right in and discuss each of these ingredients in detail.
Education and Training
When I graduated National, I decided I was going to do whatever it took to work for a great sports chiropractor. I was fortunate enough to be hired by Dr. Jan Corwin, who was the official US Olympic Team Chiropractor in Seoul in 1988. I spent a year with Jan learning each day about what a high quality sports chiropractic practice looked like and the importance of having great relationships with people both inside and outside the profession – more on that later. When I decided to return home to my roots in Washington, DC and start my own practice, I realized I had a lot more to learn – clinically. Immediately I enrolled in my CCSP course. In that course, I was trained by some of the world’s best sports chiropractors – Drs. Marianne Gengenbach, Tom Hyde, Bill Moreau and more. Once you begin to go down the road of postgraduate training, my advice would be to never get off. Continuous education to pursue a Diplomate, an ICSSD, a masters in sports, and/or certifications in great programs such as Functional Movement Screen®, Active Release Technique®, Graston Technique®, Kinesiology taping, FAKTR®, and more, can be extremely beneficial. These degrees and certifications are not about the letters after your name – they’re about tools in the toolbox. The more tools you have the more you can correctly apply those tools to the athlete you are treating and their goals and needs. Dr. Tom Hyde, DC, DACBSP, co-founder of Functional and Kinetic Treatment with Rehabilitation, Provocation and Motion (www.faktr.com), and one of the world’s preeminent sports chiropractors, emphasizes never stop learning, saying, “It’s amazing how far sports chiropractic has come in the last two decades. Dedication to learning has turned into a process whereby now we are teaching some of the most advanced techniques in managing the athletic chiropractic patient. Continuous focus on education and evidence-based practice will propel the sports chiropractor to new levels in the future.” Further attending interdisciplinary conferences can be extremely beneficial. Dr. Angela Salcedo, Past President of the International Sports Chiropractic Association and now a member of Federation of International Chiropractic Sport, states, "Attending other sports medicine conferences outside of chiropractic has afforded me the opportunity to build multi-disciplinary relationships. Over the years, these relationships in turn have given me additional opportunities to build my sports chiropractic practice as the team sports chiropractor for the British Virgin Islands Olympic Committee and Track and Field team and support my leadership role in the International Sports Chiropractic Association and the Federation of International Chiropractic Sport."
Thus, investment and commitment to education and training will pay off in spades when it comes to…
Building Strong Internal and External Relationships
This second ingredient is not necessarily a “second step”. Building strong relationships can happen congruently as you build your sports chiropractic skill set. I always recommend that any doctor wanting to be a great sports chiropractor join the American Chiropractic Association Council on Sports Injuries and Physical Fitness (ACASC). Dr. Corwin took me to my first ACASC convention in Santa Barbara, California. Dr. Corwin emphasizes the importance of intra-professional meetings… “Having a network of other DCs around the country to share your trials and tribulations with, knowing they are also involved in sports chiropractic can be extremely beneficial because the knowledge sharing is so strong.” Certainly for my first ACASC convention, it became abundantly clear that not only was I surrounded by phenomenal sports chiropractors, I was surrounded by phenomenal people. Every person I met was (and still is) completely engaged and committed to bringing chiropractic to the forefront of sports. Not only that, they were, and still are, committed to helping others grow sports chiropractic. I met Dr. Hyde for the first time at this convention and he literally changed my life. He took me under his wing and helped me, and continues to help me to this day, increase my involvement in sports chiropractic. The lesson to be learned here is that had I never gone to our national association’s convention, I would have never met these people who have had such an impact on my life. And, as great as the professional opportunities that came about because of building these internal-to-chiropractic relationships, it’s actually the personal connections that I’ve made with these great folks that are the most rewarding. In addition, being part of the national association provides tremendous resources to the budding sports chiropractor. Local, regional and national events that require staffing, educational meetings and vendor resources are just a few of the many reasons to join.
The message that was reiterated over and over again in speaking with the world’s best sports chiropractors was that in order to be successful as a sports chiropractor, you had to be humble. Even though we leave school with a passion to literally change the world with our hands, we have to be respectful of the other healthcare providers on the healthcare team. I remember hearing stories of Dr. Phil Santiago, who was the official chiropractor for the 1992 US Olympic team in Barcelona, Spain, cleaning up the training room because there were no patients that day and he wanted to do something to begin to make a contribution. Those sports chiropractors who think cleaning, or helping in any way, is below them will find the road to gaining acceptance long and hard. Those sports chiropractors who are willing to roll up their sleeves and do whatever it takes to make a positive contribution, listen and respect others, and clearly communicate how they can be an integral part of the healthcare team in a manner that is humble, but confident, will excel. Dr. Alan Sokoloff, Chiropractor for the Baltimore Ravens, adds, “Most chiropractors do well to get involved with sports teams, but many of their struggles come with staying involved. I have found good communication to be the key. 1. Communication with your team supervisor (Physician, athletic trainer, etc.) about what you recommend for the player. 2. Communication with the player and making sure your message is consistent with that of the rest of the medical staff. 3. Communication with your office and family, so they know your time commitments. The goal is to not just get involved, it’s to stay involved.”
What’s the best way to go about building these relationships? If you are already in practice, have inquisitive conversations with your existing patients about themselves, their kids, their friends and family that are participating in sports and offer your services – in your office, on the field, and/or in the company lunchroom for a lecture. Do they know coaches and athletic directors? Do they know of community groups that are bound by a particular sport – running, skiing, bowling??? For those of you who are starting a brand new sports chiropractic practice and don’t have a patient base to leverage, use my favorite tool…Google…think about the sports you want to serve, and Google “youth football league, your town” and see what comes up. Also spend some time out of the office introducing yourself to local coaches, trainers and owners of health clubs. Dr. Peter Garbutt, President of Sports Chiropractic Australia, states, “I would say that one of the things that I found most beneficial with building relationships with other professionals was to join a sports medicine association and participate in the interests of the organization, not yourself and not chiropractic. Throughout our training and general socialization we tend to become a part of the chiropractic community automatically. We don't have that luxury within the sports medicine community, so we have to show that we are a part of that community and not an opportunist or pariah in their organization.”
There are infinite possibilities…Of course, if you’re going to be a great sports chiropractor and you’re going to have all these potential opportunities, you better get used to…
We’re all tasked with working hard to have successful practices. But the great sports chiropractors take hard work to another level. Working in their practices during the week and then working on the weekends doing community sports events, treating patients on the sidelines or on the court, providing sports injury treatment and prevention lectures, are all critical elements to building your brand as a top sports chiropractor. It takes hard work to raise your level of education, it takes hard work to spend time building new relationships with the outside sports world – coaches, athletic trainers, parents, personal trainers, other physicians.
Most highly successful sports chiropractors work a lot more hours, and they do it not because it’s going to get them another new patient, but for the love of service. They know they can help that athlete recover from an injury faster, prevent an injury and/or provide information and feedback that will change the game in the positive direction for the athlete. It’s that commitment to service that shines through, and when intent is altruistic, great things happen.
Dr. Greenstein is the CEO of the Sport and Spine Companies, a multi-location, multi-disciplinary, evidenced-based practice in the Washington DC Metro region. He is also the President and Founder of the Sport and Spine Rehab Clinical Research Foundation, a non-profit dedicated to high quality, clinical research. He is a member of the scientific advisory board for Thera-band®. He serves on the CCGPP as the Vice Chair and represents CCGPP on the Chiropractic Summit and the Government Relations Committee.