Baseball and Chiropractic: Healthcare That Fits Like a Glove
By Paul Rothbart
Mid-July is an exciting time for baseball fans. For a few days, they can get their minds off the pennant races and how well, or how poorly, their favorite teams are playing as they get set to watch the Major League Baseball All-Star Game.
Some of the greatest players on the planet will gather in Seattle to participate in the 93rd Midsummer Classic as the National League All-Stars take on their counterparts in the American League, which is looking to extend its current nine-game winning streak.
From all-stars to utility players, big league baseball players rely on the training and medical staff to treat their injuries and keep them in top physical condition, allowing them to perform at their best over a grueling 162-game schedule.
How Many Baseball Teams Employ a Chiropractor?
All 30 teams in the major leagues have a chiropractor on their training staff. From San Diego to New York, Minneapolis to Houston, a chiropractor is available to the players. Team chiropractors are an essential part of every medical staff in the bigs.
Even more surprising is the fact that the team of baseball and chiropractic goes back more than a century. Although unconfirmed, there are reports that Chicago Cubs pitcher Mordecai “Three Fingers” Brown underwent chiropractic care in 1911. There is evidence that even Babe Ruth received chiropractic treatment during his illustrious career.
Did Babe Ruth Use a Chiropractor?
The Roaring Twenties was the era of one of the greatest sports teams of all-time, the New York Yankees. An offensive juggernaut, the lineup known as Murderer’s Row was anchored by the Sultan of Swat. Yankee hitters terrorized American League pitchers.
Every legendary team has its little-known, yet essential contributors, some of whom never play an inning. For the great Yankee teams of the 20s, this was the trainer, Al “Doc” Woods.
Woods was not just any trainer. He was a doctor of chiropractic who graduated from Carver Chiropractic College in Oklahoma City. Doc Woods administered chiropractic treatment and offered sound advice to Babe Ruth, Lou Gehrig, and the rest of the Yankees. Whether the Bambino, a notorious drinker, followed that advice on good living is open to debate and probably scorn; in matters of libation, he most certainly did not.
A unique part of Doc Woods’ legacy was the method he developed for players to tie their shoes, which really shows how far ahead he was thinking in terms of player health and performance.
Image Source: Photo courtesy of Dr. Eugene Charles
Designed to reduce the amount of pressure the laces placed on the nerves and blood vessels on the top of the foot, the intent was to improve circulation and prevent what Woods called “foot fatigue.”
There is no denying the success of the Yankees during Woods’ career as their trainer from 1919-1929. The Bronx Bombers won three World Series and six American League pennants. The Babe, who relied heavily on the treatments of Doc, put up unheard-of home run totals during the era, hitting 54 round-trippers in 1920, 59 in 1921, and 60 in 1927. That record would stand until Roger Maris’ historic 61-homer season in 1961, a record that would survive another 37 years until Mark McGwire hit 70.
After Woods left the Yankees, he was replaced by another chiropractor, Dr. Erle V. Painter, who worked with the team from 1930-42, treating Ruth, Gehrig, and eventually Joe DiMaggio.
How Important Is Chiropractic to Baseball?
Because every Major League team makes chiropractic care available to their players -- and teams have millions of dollars invested in their talent -- you could infer that the brightest minds in a billion-dollar business appreciate the value that chiropractic brings to the table. Owners want to protect their investments and also improve their value to the team; players in optimal playing condition are more valuable and have a greater likelihood of success.
Despite its status as a non-contact sport, baseball is tough on the body. Even the most casual fan knows how often their team has players on the disabled list.
Dr. Eugene Charles, a New York-based chiropractor and associate member of the Professional Baseball Chiropractic Society and Major League Baseball Players Alumni Association, describes treating a manager (and retired big league pitcher) he calls “Frank” who experienced excruciating pain each time he threw batting practice. In his book Journal to Healing: The Art and Science of Applied Kinesiology, Charles says Frank was told by team physicians it was a rotator cuff issue and prescribed the traditional treatments of cortisone and strengthening exercises. The treatments didn’t work and Frank’s pain grew worse.
A team doctor referred him to a chiropractor, who noticed that when standing relaxed, Frank’s right hand was turned inward with the knuckles facing forward, rather than out to the right. Further examination discovered that one of the muscles in Frank’s rotator cuff was not functioning properly and was directly connected to a restriction in Frank’s ribs. Restriction in the ribs is a common cause of pain and lack of mobility in the shoulder joint; a chiropractic adjustment to Frank’s ribs and shoulder joint relieved him of his pain, restored his mobility, and allowed him to resume pitching batting practice. It’s a great example of the root cause of a problem being caused elsewhere from the visible problem.
A baseball season is a long haul; it covers six months, not including spring training or the playoffs, with precious few days off. Hamstring pulls are ubiquitous and pitchers suffer all kinds of arm injuries. Dr. Curt Rindal, chiropractor for the Seattle Mariners, has a front-row seat to the rigors that the game places on the body of professional athletes. “These players put a ton of demand on their bodies getting through a 162-game season,” he said. “They are like fine-tuned machines, and if one thing is off, they recognize it.”
The Mariners have had a chiropractor on staff since at least 2012. Dr. Rindal sees many common injuries. “The most common baseball injuries include mild soft tissue injuries, such as muscle pulls [strains], and ligament injuries [sprains], to your more serious rotator cuff tears, labral tears, UCL tears. Neck and low back pain is common, as well, from all the rotation necessary with swinging and throwing.”
Like Dr. Charles, Dr. Rindal has a good example of chiropractic at work from his earliest days with baseball players. “One came in with a complaint of medial elbow pain,” he said. “The soft tissue was tight there and traveling down into his forearm, but the joints of the elbow were moving fine. Looking at the motion in his lower neck and upper back revealed restriction that was affecting the nerves to his medial elbow. His scapula was also locked up and putting more pressure on the elbow joint when throwing. Adjusting segments in the cervical spine, thoracic spine, and several ribs allowed for the scapula to move more freely and take the pressure off his medial elbow. I remember learning a lot from this case on how important it is to evaluate the whole area, not just the area of complaint.”
Robb Quinlan, a retired big leaguer who played several seasons with the Angels as a utility player, once suffered an injury while warming up. As Quinlan tells it, “When I was swinging a baseball bat before a game, I pulled the left side of my abdominal muscles. When I was doing a lot of physical therapy, I was using more of my right side than my left, so then it affected my leg and my back.” Quinlan sought treatment from a chiropractor in his native Minnesota during the offseason. It helped. A lot. “The results were awesome,” Quinlan said.“ The chiropractor helped me with my rehabilitation. I was really surprised.” He’s been a believer ever since -- he now owns franchises for The Joint Chiropractic and is a regional developer with the company, the nation’s largest chiropractic franchise.
A baseball swing involves multiple body parts and the bat speed achieved by professionals can place plenty of strain on them.
Then there are pitchers, as in the case of Frank, where game conditions are much more intense than tossing batting practice. The amount of stress placed on the shoulder, elbow, core, and legs while throwing 95 mph fastballs -- not to mention the curves, cutters, splitters, sliders and slurves, etc. -- is significant.
“The daily stress on the body of pitchers is different than that of a position player,” Dr. Rindal says. “However, I look at the body as a whole for each player. I start at the area of complaint and evaluate the relative motion of the joints and tone of the soft tissue. I thin move to the joints above and below that area to see how they are moving as well. Sometimes the issue is confined to the specific complaint, other times it could be several segments or joints away. The pain in the hip or low back could be related to restriction in the joints of the ankle and knee. You start to see patterns with certain injuries after doing this for so many years.”
Clearly, chiropractic care is an important part of the treatment and prevention of injuries to major league players. It helps them stay on the field where they can contribute to their team’s success.
“I’m just one part of an excellent healthcare team that is provided by the Mariners,” said Dr. Rindal, who will be the chiropractor for the All-Star Game and Home Run Derby. “Providing access to a variety of treatments given by a team of providers allows these players to address a multitude of issues. Utilizing this type of combination gives the players the best chance for a healthy, successful season.
“Chiropractic care within professional sports is very mainstream now and nearly every professional sports team has a chiropractor on staff.”
One other thing often goes unsaid. The healthier the players, the better quality of life they can enjoy while putting up with the stress, strain, and physical demands of living half the season on the road, and maximizing family time during homestands.
Famous Athletes Who Used Chiropractic
Celebrities don’t get much bigger than Babe Ruth, but there are numerous other famous athletes in sports other than baseball who rely on regular chiropractic treatment. The bodies of basketball players undergo heavy stress at the NBA level. The GOAT himself, Michael Jordan, swore by chiropractic throughout his incredible career.
All 32 NFL teams currently have a chiropractor on their staff and many professional football players attribute chiropractic treatment as part of their success. With 11 Super Bowl titles and eight MVPs in the big game between them -- and arguably the two greatest quarterbacks in the history of the league -- Joe Montana and Tom Brady both received regular chiropractic treatments during their playing days. Montana’s favorite target, record-setting receiver Jerry Rice, was also a chiropractic patient.
Other standout professional athletes who credit chiropractic with helping them reach a level of greatness are golfer Tiger Woods, boxer Evander Holyfield, and bodybuilder Arnold Schwarzenegger. If it helped the Terminator, how can you ignore the effectiveness of routine chiropractic treatment?
Treatment for Fans and Players Alike
America’s pastime has a long and colorful history filled with unforgettable players. Chiropractic care has been along for a good portion of that ride and is firmly cemented as a vital part of every team’s medical staff.
Treatment from a chiropractor can also be effective for ordinary fans. And let’s face it, there are a lot of baseball and softball players in the suburbs who can be as positively impacted by chiropractic care as MLB’s biggest stars.
“The importance of chiropractic care in sports medicine can’t be understated,” Dr. Rindal said. “Any player, male or female, whether a Major League All-Star or a Little Leaguer, can benefit from what chiropractic has to offer.”
You won’t hit 714 career home runs, but chiropractic care might help your softball team win a few more games -- and in your dugout, that is sure to make you an all-star.
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