Keeping professional players field-ready with pro sports rehab while lifting the profession
CHIROPRACTORS ARE NOW ON THE MEDICAL STAFF for nearly every professional sports team — from baseball to hockey to football to soccer — providing pro sports rehab and care to enhance athletic performance, treat injuries and minimize the risk of future injuries.
Logan University graduates Emma Minx, DC (‘14), CCSP, MS, former team chiropractor for the Chicago Bears of the National Football League (NFL); Mike Murphy, DC (’95), team chiropractor for the St. Louis Blues of the National Hockey League (NHL) and St. Louis Cardinals of Major League Baseball (MLB); and Chris Williams, DC (‘98), team chiropractor for the Tampa Bay Rays of the MLB and Tampa Bay Buccaneers of the NFL, share their experiences in the world of professional sports.
How does chiropractic fit within the sports medicine team?
Murphy: I have always believed in an integrated approach. Each member of the medical team knows each other’s strengths, and we’re in constant communication. Just as the players have their positions and plays, so do we, and that’s a benefit to the team.
Williams: Chiropractic is a major part of the treatment of the athletes — I would say that over 50% of all athletes of both teams with whom I work receive chiropractic care from me over the season, and there are many times in professional baseball that players from the opposing teams request to see me when in town.
Why is chiropractic care invaluable for professional athletes?
Minx: Chiropractic care allows you to impart change quickly, which is invaluable for an athlete pre- or mid-game. Chiropractic care does a great job of alleviating joint restriction without relying on medications to help reduce pain, and it helps keep the body moving well. It’s also important to remember that for these athletes, their livelihood is highly reliant on a well-moving body. If they can’t play, they can’t make money. Chiropractic care helps them perform at a high level, and also do their job.
Williams: For us chiropractors, we understand the fundamental assistance chiropractic brings to the overall well-being of the individual. Professional athletes are always striving to be one step ahead of their competitors, and they rely on chiropractic care for a reduction in discomfort, tension and restrictions as well as increased flexibility. I see the athletes feel a sense of refreshment after their adjustments and are able to focus on their performance knowing they are in line and ready to go.
What’s your most memorable moment working in the big leagues?
Minx: It was a career goal of mine to work with a professional team, and the first regular season game I worked was a Sunday Night Football [broadcast] game at Green Bay — the rival of the Bears. The away team locker room at Lambeau Field is very different from most stadiums; you’re walking and walking through a long, narrow hallway until finally the lights begin to get a little brighter and the crowd noise begins to get a little louder, and all the sudden, it opens up into the stadium. Walking onto the field and having the energy of a Sunday Night Football game against a rivalry team was surreal. Thinking about it gives me goose bumps because I can remember walking into the stadium and feeling like I finally accomplished this goal I had been working toward.
Murphy: The Blues’ Stanley Cup victory in 2019 was a pretty surreal moment of my career. We came close a few times, but in order to win the Stanley Cup, a lot of things have to go your way … good players, staying healthy and, of course, winning 16 games in the playoffs. It all just came together that year. What made the win so cool was getting to share it with all the people who work hard within the organization, from management and coaches to the business office, equipment and media staff. When you’re traveling and eating dinners together, the team’s success is everyone’s success.
Williams: There are way too many to list … being a part of the Super Bowl and traveling to the playoff games. Being on the field for the Super Bowl celebration. Working on players before and during games and seeing them do something amazing such as score a touchdown, make a sack, intercept a ball or hit a home run, and then talk about chiropractic in the post-game interview. Having the athlete call or text me for advice regarding their certain issue, which shows how much trust they place in chiropractic. Getting to know the players on a personal level and fishing or golfing together in the off-season. And probably the most-asked question has to be: “What is Tom Brady like?” To that, I answer that if he was the CEO of any company, I would purchase stock in that company because he is a born leader. Players listen and follow him.
What kinds of injuries/types of care and pro sports rehab do you typically provide?
Minx: Although in clinic I treat and evaluate many conditions, my role with the Bears was that of a technician. Occasionally, I was consulted on an athlete’s injury, but most of the time, I was under the directive of the head athletic trainer and the other orthopedics. Our role was to keep the players moving well, whether that was treating hip tightness, low-back stiffness or strains. We would also see some ankle issues, especially if they were practicing on turf, and every so often we would see a neck injury from a hard tackle.
Williams: In baseball, we see overuse of the same muscle groups or patterns for each position due to the fact that baseball is a unidimensional sport. Players run the bases the same way, pitchers throw with the same arm, batters bat from the same side of the plate, and players catch with the same arm. For example, for a right-handed pitcher who throws high velocity and is over 6-foot-2, we typically see left-sided sacroiliac and lower-back issues from the landing spot off the pitcher’s mound, with right-sided mid-back pain. In football, anything goes! We treat many musculoskeletal injuries that require rest and rehab.
What’s the most important thing you’ve learned providing chiropractic care to professional athletes?
Murphy: Communication is key. I was just two years out of Logan when then-Blues hockey player Kelly Chase came to me with a rib injury. During my time treating him, I contacted the trainer to discuss the injury. The trainer appreciated that phone call, and he followed up by asking me to take a look at a different player with a back injury. That was the beginning of my ongoing relationship with the Blues spanning more than 22 years.
Williams: Stay in your lane. I am a chiropractor and that is what I do. If I notice issues outside my scope of practice, no matter what I know, I go directly to the head athletic trainer and discuss.
Why is a prominent presence in professional sports important for the chiropractic profession overall?
Minx: Chiropractic is an important part of the sports medicine continuum, and being involved at the professional level provides legitimacy and credibility to our profession. For example, there were a couple of times patients were referred to me and said, “I’m not sold on chiropractic, but you work with the Bears so you must be good at what you do.”
Williams: When the general public takes notice that professional teams have a chiropractor on staff to care for the highly-paid athletes, it adds value to all chiropractors. I feel I am representing my profession in what I do, and I take that very seriously.
What is your biggest piece of advice for other DCs looking to get into professional sports?
Minx: Experience is key. The most beneficial thing I did to prepare myself for this opportunity was work with my high school alma mater. Working in an athletic environment, even on a small scale, was great preparation for pro sports rehab and working in the NFL. Everyone on the staff has something different to offer in an injury situation, and working with high school teams taught me how to be a team player.
Williams: Get to know the team’s medical staff. There are times when players need someone in the off-season, and sometimes players find their own chiropractor outside of the team. If you are treating a professional athlete, introduce yourself to the medical team so they can get to know you. For the chiropractor looking to get involved, contact the head athletic trainer at high schools, universities and colleges.
What path did you take to get to where you are today?
Minx: I played college softball, and chiropractic and Active Release Technique (ART) played a critical role in keeping me on the field. The impact chiropractic had on me as an athlete was something I wanted to provide for other athletes through my career. I chose Logan University because it was the most innovative and forward-thinking out of the chiropractic schools, and they also had an advanced sports medicine department. Additionally, I knew it was important to be certified in ART, so I worked toward earning that certification throughout school. After graduating, I worked at a clinic in Chicago that provided pro sports rehab and care for many Chicago professional teams, which is where I got the opportunity to work with the Bears. Now, as clinic director, I’m focusing on running and expanding Advanced Care Specialists in Wisconsin.
Murphy: I earned my degree in human kinetics from the University of Windsor, then worked with various track and hockey teams as a coach and exercise physiologist before attending Logan. In addition to working with the Blues, I own a private practice in St. Louis — Performance Chiropractic — coach hockey in the area, and teach sports injuries and orthopedics for Logan’s postgraduate department. I was previously the official NFL team chiropractor for the St. Louis Rams (2001-16), St. Louis Sting Junior Hockey NAHL, Nike Gateway Classic at Lake Forest C.C. Nike Tour, the Missouri River Otters UHL and St. Louis Athletica Women’s Professional Soccer.
Williams: I graduated college with a double major in finance and international business. After working at a bank in my hometown for 10 months, I realized my calling was chiropractic. It was not easy going from business finance classes to biochemistry, but as in any dream, if you want it bad enough you find a way to get it done. After graduating from Logan, I worked at a practice for several years in North Carolina before moving to Tampa where I opened my own practice, and then another, which I retired from in October 2020.
NICOLE SCHULENBURG writes about chiropractic for Logan University.