As parents, we want to see our kids succeed and excel in the things they are doing. Whether it is having friends, school, but especially, it seems we are in a culture that loves seeing their kids thrive in sport.
There are so many benefits of having your kids in sport. I grew up in a rink and a dance studio, and on the track. I participated in a wide variety of sports from a youth up until a young adult, and even still, sport is part of my life (although it looks a lot different as a parent of soon to be, 3).
I was mainly an avid figure skater, spending 2-3 hours a day to my beloved sport (many more during summer camps). I pushed my body physically and mentally through this sport until I was almost 20 years old. I competed in the senior level, and even competed Nationals against the well known and loved, Joannie Rochette. (She was an amazing athlete!).
The reason why I share this is because I get it. I understand the demands, dedication and sacrifice it takes to attain and sustain a high level of competitive sport.
When I got into Chiropractic school, I had never been assessed EVER by a chiropractor. I always had the mentality that I didn’t need one and almost took pride in it. My body definitely sustained injuries. Major whiplash, major falls, pelvic injuries, dislocated shoulders, knee and back issues…but they all seemed to heal and felt ok! I didn’t understand the benefits of Chiropractic beyond pain, and I definitely didn’t feel the slight degradation of my body and the physical toll it took on my body to sustain a high level of activity from a young age. To me, I felt normal.
So in school, I decided to try it out just for kicks. I had NO IDEA what a mess I was in.
The biggest thing was my neck. Isn’t it normal to get a throbbing headache every 6 weeks or so? Isn’t it normal for your neck to hurt when people touch it? Isn’t it normal to hear crunching in your joints? Isn’t it normal to feel an intense stretch in your muscles that runs down your back when you look down?
Isn’t it normal?
Nope. But that was MY normal. It was something I just had, but didn’t pay much attention to. Could this be related to the ear infections I get, even as an adult? Hmmmmmmm, this whole assessment got me thinking!
I ask these questions with slight sarcasm. So often I see patients, ESPECIALLY ATHLETES, who have become so accustom to a body functioning less than optimal, some even have some REAL symptoms but brush them off as normal. I say “especially athletes”, because in my experience we are almost trained to work through things, we have a high pain tolerance, and if it isn’t outwardly affecting our game or sport, it is easy to ignore.
With a neck like mine, I was well on my way to developing some future issues. But more than that, I had no idea the potential I could reach!
In practice, our focus is kids and families. We have a lot of experience dealing with “normal” and “common”, and even some intense things many athletes suffer from – post concussive symptoms.
How could Chiropractic benefit your young athlete? You don’t have to look far to see that many athletes use regular chiropractic care to give them an edge. So what ARE the benefits of regular chiropractic care? Here are my top 3.
1. Redefining NORMAL
A healthy body is not just merely a body without symptoms. We check for DYSFUNCTION in spinal movement.
When a spinal segment or vertebrae is not in proper function, whether it be a motion issue or alignment issue, or both – the brain cannot perceive itself properly. There is lots of nerdy science behind this, but in a nutshell, the brain relies heavily on spinal segmental movement to gain an awareness of where it is in space (proprioception). When this lacks, or is altered, we get compensation, and also an increase in NOCICEPTION (a stress response to the brain). For the most part, this is asymptomatic (no overt symptoms). A number of things change within the physiology and neurology of the patient.
If left to continue to be in a dysfunctional state, we see muscle tone issues, range of motion issues, and tenderness form. The body will do it’s best to make a workaround.
Newer research is looking at how spinal segmental (we call this subluxation) issues affect the brain and it’s function. They are seeing changes in messages sent to the prefrontal cortex of the brain. The area of the brain that deals with things like planning complex cognitive behavior, personality expression, decision making, and moderating social behavior. Pretty neat! And all things important when in active sport 🙂
More research is needed, but clinically we have people comment on these things improving when under care.
So redefining normal is HUGE. And we see that daily in practice 😀
2. Balancing the fight or flight response (Sympathetic) and the rest and digest (Parasympathetic).
You probably have heard these terms before. This is extremely important in athletes. Because of the training, injuries, emotional stressors that come with sport, it is common that the young athlete can become more stress response/sympathetic dominant. This dominance overpowers the rest, heal, relaxation (parasympathetic) response.
We may see no symptomatic change, but some signs of stress dominance are things like GI issues, trouble sleeping, weakened immune system, poor healing, sluggish feeling, high heart rate/blood pressure, lowered heart rate variability, rigid and tight muscles, headaches, irritability…..just to name some common ones.
If you go to a trained chiropractor who is skilled and knowledgeable on balancing these systems, it can have a tremendous impact! There are specific areas of the spine that are commonly dysfunctional when dealing with a patient stuck in stress dominance. It is very important to seek one with this knowledge.
3. Improved efficiency and Performance
When making gains in athletics, a huge part of that is training the body to become more efficient. There is HUGE power in having a spine that moves properly. One will be that the body moves with more EASE, there is more EASE in the nervous system (as explained above – the stress response is hugely energy taxing), the compensation the body will do will make the body work less optimally, recruiting muscles in a less than optimum way.
Over time, this can definitely lead to overuse injuries, or even some sudden tears. The body can adapt, but not every adaptation was meant for long term.
One of the most common things we see that will make a lot of sense is leg length deficiencies. The difference in leg length is rarely a bone length issue, but rather a pelvic alignment one. We see shifts in the alignment of the sacrum and sacroiliac joint that make the leg appear short. Functionally, it is!
Now imagine trying to run on a short leg, or trying to skate with a pelvis that isn’t moving correctly. You will be able to do it, but at what cost? Correct these things and you are now dealing with a more well oiled machine! Zoom! Performance is often enhanced 😀
These are 3 of the big benefits in a young athlete. There are also 3 major factors affecting spinal alignment and all of the neurology and physiology behind it. These are physical stressors, chemical stressors (nutrition, chemicals, environment), and emotional stressors. The more they accumulate and the less the body is able to adapt appropriately, the more issues we find in the spine, and the more likely the impact it will have on the health of the individual.
Physical stress is a given in sport. Emotional can be a big one, too. It was for me. Figure skating was tough on the mind back in my day – dealing with body image issues, pressures of performing, pushing through injury, missing social events…it is a lot for a young developing person.
Having an advantage to handling, dealing and adapting to these stressors is a key element. Giving the body the healing ingredients to go along with the demands that the young athlete places on their body cannot be overstated.
I encourage you to consider the longevity of your athletes body and mind. So often, we see patients years later and go back through their history and see that these things could have been helped through proper care.
Teaching our kids to respect their body, encouraging self care and proper rest is something that will benefit them for a lifetime.
“I wish I started sooner”. These are words we wish to hear less and less of.
Take care of yourself. Today.