The chiropractic sports doctor must have the flexibility and financial stability to be able to take time away from their practice to support the team …
The growing field of sports chiropractic is proof that the addition of chiropractors to the sports medical team is of great benefit to the teams and the athletes in kind. Nearly every team in professional sports has a chiropractor sports doctor on staff to provide care to their players.
Practitioners looking to get involved in the field of sports chiropractic are best poised to have a passion for sports and enjoy being part of a team that seeks to help athletes perform better.
To some, it may seem like being involved as a chiropractic sports doctor can be both glamorous and financially lucrative. However, it more often falls quite short of these expectations.
Being a part of the medical staff at the amateur, collegiate or professional level requires one to be a team player. Often on game days, this could mean arriving hours early to help fill water bottles, set up medical stations, restock supplies, help injured players run through rehabilitation drills, tape players’ wrists or ankles, and generally support the needs of the trainers and staff. The post-game routine is the mirror image.
Expect to stay long after many have left to help break down equipment, restock supplies, clean the training room and empty water bottles, all in addition to assisting athletes who need post-game therapy. Typical game days for sports such as football can begin in the morning with pregame treatment and extend long into the evening.
The financial aspect of a chiropractic sports doctor can be the murkiest. Entering the field, the bulk of your time with the sports team or school’s athletic department will be volunteered or pro bono. This often comes with an eye roll and a quick disregard from many individuals contemplating entering the field, or even those with an established practice unable to rationalize the financial and time commitment. More on this later.
Chiropractic sports doctor: education, experience and credentialing
Working with athletes requires a certain level of competency. One needs to be prepared to help manage medical situations such as stabilizing fractures, dislocations, or boarding a suspected spinal trauma, in addition to many other potentially life-threatening situations.
Moreover, when working with teams or athletes not fortunate enough to have an experienced athletic trainer or emergency medical support nearby, the sports chiropractor needs to be proficient with solo emergency care. This involves having the experience and knowledge to confidently direct personnel during a medical emergency, being aware and implementing emergency action plans and managing life-threatening situations for both athletes on the field and spectators in the stands. Lastly, some specific sports require competency managing non-life-threatening situations with taping and bracing, wound care or concussion management.
The most common training and credentialing within the sports chiropractic community in the United States come from two organizations: The American Chiropractic Board of Sports Physicians (ACBSP) and the Federation International of Sports Chiropractic (FICS). The ACBSP offers two levels of credentials: the Certified Chiropractic Sports Physician (CCSP) and the Diplomate of the American College of Sports Physicians (DACBSP). The CCSP requires a master’s degree, an active athletic training (ATC) license, or completion of a minimum of 100 hours of postgraduate education in the CCSP program at an accredited chiropractic college to sit for the written exam.
The DACBSP requires additional experience and research components, and both a written and practical exam to satisfy the highest level of sports chiropractic education within the ACBSP’s educational paradigm. The FICS organization offers both an online and in-person credentialing for sports chiropractors looking to achieve the International Certificate in Sports Chiropractic (ICSC) and be eligible to participate in international sporting events exclusive to FICS providers.
Both certifications provide a good base for skill when providing sideline coverage and emergency care for sports teams, schools or individual athletes. However, there is no substitute for experience, and involving yourself in these situations and environments drastically improves situational confidence and competency.
How do I get involved?
While there are several ways of becoming involved in amateur athletics following the appropriate training, one of the first steps is establishing a relationship with the ATC.
Even in situations where there are medical directors and athletic directors, the ATC’s trust and voice carries the most weight within many organizations. They are in constant communication with the athletes and often know them better personally and physically than the physician or athletic director.
The next step is to appropriately provide and explain your own qualifications and training as a chiropractic sports doctor. Lastly and most importantly, it is vital for the sports chiropractor to understand their role within the medical team, or as it relates to the athletic trainer’s needs. For example, if the medical team is diverse, the sports chiropractor’s role may be limited to simply providing manipulation. As the ATC becomes more familiar with you and your skill set, expect your involvement to expand.
Why should I get involved if the time and financial commitment are so burdensome?
There are a few questions a chiropractor entering the field of sports should ask themselves:
- Does working with a sports team or school athletics department dovetail well with your own private practice (i.e., similar clientele, treatment approach, proximity to the clinic, etc.)?
- Can you financially sustain time away from the clinic if necessary to support teams while traveling?
- Do you have a background or passion for a particular sport and understand the human biomechanics or injuries that are most commonly identified?
While most services performed by sports chiropractors are delivered pro bono in amateur sports, there are avenues to monetize your involvement. These include:
- Providing additional fee-based care for the athlete and their family at your private clinic
- Providing pre-season physicals (in states that allow DCs to perform and sign off)
- Promoting your relationship through your own social media and having the team or organization reciprocate on their own platforms
- Developing a relationship that compensates your time with advertising on the school’s website, program or newsletter
- Writing monthly articles on sport-specific topics that will resonate with athletes and their families, driving patient volume
Potential travel and maintaining a practice
One important note when working with sports teams is the aspect of travel. As the teams you work with begin to move into the elite amateur, semiprofessional and professional levels, there becomes a larger emphasis on the requirement for the medical team to travel to away competitions or games.
The chiropractic sports doctor must have the flexibility and financial stability to be able to take time away from their practice to support the team during certain competitions or tournaments. However, one of the perks of working in sports is the ability to travel to destinations that might not have ever shown up on your travel bucket list. As an example, I was fortunate enough to travel to Nur Sultan, Kazakhstan, to support athletes in a world championship a few years ago. While travel can be disruptive to private practice, patients often appreciate a doctor who volunteers their time, and are consistently the ones to brag to colleagues, family or friends that they see the team chiropractor who looks after their child’s high school or favorite local sports team.
Although it may seem like the financial and time commitment are reason enough to avoid sports chiropractic, there are strategies to make working for sports teams profitable for your business. Over the long term, one must also weigh what value is placed on life experiences, particularly those which allow you to travel to overseas destinations, or the career satisfaction that comes with being a core part of a team or athlete succeeding at the highest levels.
DEVON ACKROYD, DC, MS, DACBSP®, Cert. MDT, is an assistant professor and faculty clinician at Logan University. Prior to joining Logan in 2018 he worked for eight years in private practice at a sports medicine clinic. He is a Certified Strength and Conditioning Specialist (CSCS) and holds an International Certificate in Sports Chiropractic (ICSC). To learn more, go to logan.edu/faculty/devon-ackroyd.