A look at the role of chiropractors in the NFL
By Spencer H. Baron, DC, DACBSP
One thing professional athletes do not have to worry about is healthcare. Teams want their players healthy; they want to get their money’s worth. Longevity on the playing field is paramount, because for every year a player remains competitive, millions of dollars may be earned.
A perfect example is the $35 million salary of quarterback Peyton Manning. His healthcare team would not use the “no pain, no gain” treatment principles depicted in the 1979 motion picture North Dallas Forty.
Scenes in that movie showed players receiving multiple shots of anesthetics for torn ligaments and tendons so that they could continue playing.
Today, athletes, their agents, athletic trainers, and medical doctors understand the consequences of disabling the pain mechanism and have come to align themselves with the chiropractic perspective — treat the cause of the pain.
All but one of the 32 teams in the National Football League (NFL) utilize the services of a chiropractor as part of the triage in managing and preventing injuries. (Only one team does not publicly admit to using chiropractic care — the Oakland Raiders.)
Three teams have two chiropractors who adjust players, and a few teams engage DCs to perform only soft-tissue work, independent of the adjusting DC.
The average pro football chiropractor renders 30 to 50 treatments per week during the season. With the in-season (game-playing) duration lasting 16 weeks (not including quarterback camp, mini-camp, and pre- and post-season), 34 chiropractors conservatively give 16,320 to 27,200 adjustments to America’s superstars in just 120 days.
The diversity of relationships among the 31 teams and their chiropractors has generated the formation of the Professional Football Chiropractic Society (PFCS). Our main goal is to provide consistency among constituents, as we take the best practices from each alliance and create a template to apply to chiropractors who work with other pro sports.
With professional football — namely, the NFL — as the best-run business in sports (next to auto racing), these parameters bear a critical view for chiropractic to position itself as an indispensable tool in the wellness care, improved sports performance, and injury rehabilitation of professional athletes.
A PRO TEAM DC PROFILE
Recently, the PFCS surveyed its members about their team relationships. A compilation of statistics from the survey reveals some interesting information:
• Titles vary. Of the 32 teams, 24 chiropractors are referred to as the “official chiropractor.” Three are specifically considered “chiropractic consultants,” while 24 are listed as the “team chiropractor.”
• In the media. Ten team chiropractors are listed in the media guide, which is sent to every media outlet in the country and beyond. Three are listed on their team’s Web site, which is the property of the NFL.
• Shared quarters. War stories whispered throughout our profession indicated that in the past, players who wanted chiropractic adjustments had to meet with a chiropractor in hotel bathrooms, parking lots, or back alleys.
Now, 26 chiropractors share the training room with athletic trainers and team physicians, while 10 give adjustments in the locker room, and three treat in the weight room.
• Have table, will travel. Thirteen team chiropractors participate in the arduous task of traveling with their teams and treat players in hotel rooms or at the home team’s stadium.
• Some contractors, few employees. Sixteen (16) provide services as (1099) contractors, while four are salaried employees of the teams.
• Varied compensation. The compensation for team chiropractors ranges considerably. Twenty of the doctors receive paraphernalia (logo-laden clothing, shoes, and caps) in exchange for services. Some are given season tickets, while others receive a stipend ranging from $5,000 to $30,000 for a year’s contract that maintains and spells out the relationship.
• Insurance reimbursements accepted. The fees charged by team chiropractors vary from $40 to $220. NFL players are covered by Cigna PPO; 12 chiropractors accept reimbursements for treatment. These reimbursements can generate $40,000 to $60,000 annually.
• Many techniques. Most of the doctors use diversified adjusting techniques, although four use low-force methods, and one uses sacro occipital technique (SOT).
• Much soft-tissue work. Approximately 84 percent of the practitioners utilize one or a combination of soft-tissue techniques. Seventeen use trigger point; 13, myofascial release; 11, ART; seven, Graston; four, Nimmo; and two, MRT.
• Game-day work. Catering to the needs of a team’s management requires 16 chiropractors to render service on game day. The most common weekday for treatment is Friday.
• Men only. Currently no women provide chiropractic services to the NFL.
Surprisingly, perhaps, the survey does not support the assumption that acquiring certification as a chiropractic sports physician (CCSP) or earning a diplomate in sports chiropractic would be career-enhancing prerequisites.
Instead, respondents say the most important characteristics to win a place on a pro team are a teamwork mindset and the ability to communicate with players and other healthcare staff.
Team chiropractors anecdotally report that referral was a key to working with the team. For example, they said, “I treated one player and he brought the others in.” and “I became friends with the athletic trainer (or medical doctor or owner) and they allowed me to come on board.”
If you have aspirations of becoming a team chiropractor — regardless of the sport — developing your professional expertise and honing your communication skills are essential. And being in the right place at the right time doesn’t hurt.
The important thing is that positioning of a chiropractor on a professional team will continue to put this profession in a high profile and very credible atmosphere —advertising we just can’t buy.
Spencer H. Baron, DC, DACBSP, is a graduate of Texas Chiropractic College and practices in North Miami, Fla. He is the team chiropractor for the Miami Dolphins and is vice president of the Professional Football Chiropractic Society. He can be contacted at Baron2520@aol.com.