chiro as a CrossFit performance enhancer?

Article by Sam Bettison (Chiropractor and fellow #AdaptCF Crossfitter)

I’ve recently returned from a chiropractic conference, where one particular presenter talked about a number of chiropractic studies I got very excited about. When you read on you’ll see why. Let me tell you about the three studies.

The first study (1) took a bunch of people with no real problems in their neck (or the rest of their spine for that matter) and tested how accurately they could position their arm. They lay on their back with their eyes closed, their arm was put in a specific position then returned to neutral, then they were asked to reproduce the same position as accurately as possible. This was measured. What this shows is a thing called proprioception, in other words, how accurately can you sense where your body is positioned, and how it’s moving. Then their necks were adjusted. The same test with arm position was performed again. There was a significant improvement in their ability to accurately place their arms in a certain position. In other words, they were more co-ordinated after an adjustment.

The second study (2) took a group of young guys, and tested them to see how well they could stabilise their spines. See, the way the body works is this: whenever you do anything with your body, anything at all, the first muscles that should always activate are your core stabilisers. Pick up a pen – core stabilisers activate first. Snatch your own body weight – core stabilisers activate first! And if they don’t it is a well recognised indication that you are a prime candidate for back problems. This study got these young blokes to simply lift their arm straight out in front, and measured with electrodes whether their stabilisers activated before or after their arm muscles. Remember, these guys were asymptomatic (eg. there was nothing wrong with them) Nevertheless some of them couldn’t activate their core stabilisers properly. They left it six months, without doing anything to the guys, and tested them again. Most of those that couldn’t activate their cores the first time still couldn’t do so. Then they adjusted them, just once, in their pelvis, and tested again. There was about a 40% improvement in activation time across the board, including many of the participants now being able to activate their stabilisers before their arm muscles, as they should have been able to.

OK, I have to confess I haven’t actually read the third study, I’ve only heard the researcher talk about it. What was done, however, is really interesting: they got a group of asymptomatic people together, and tested the strength of their calf muscles. Then they adjusted their spines, and retested their calves. Now, as I’m sure you can imagine, there have been a number of studies looking at strength and performance changes with different training regimes, so we can say with a fair degree of accuracy how the average person responds to exercise. What was interesting about this study is that when they rechecked the function of the subjects’ calves, there was an average improvement equivalent to if they had engaged in a three week strength training program!

What these results means for you is that it is entirely possible that simply getting your spine checked and adjusted may increase your co-ordination, the stability of your spine, and your strength! And keep in mind that all of these studies were performed on people with NO overt problems AT ALL!

Of course, we have to acknowledge that we don’t know the fitness status of the people in these various studies, and possibly the outcomes may be different in highly active athletes. Also, we don’t yet know how long the effects will last – hours, days, or more. And there may be other limitations to these studies that I haven’t thought of.

Even so: more strength, more stability and more co-ordination. Just from getting your spine adjusted by a chiropractor.

With that possible, why on earth didn’t I make sure that each and every one of you competing in Judgement Day simply came and got adjusted before your WODs?!?

The simple truth is that there is a lot more benefit to seeing a chiropractor than simply getting your aches and pains looked after. Given that chiropractic can improve your performance (and it has an exemplary safety record) getting checked regularly regardless of how you are feeling makes sense. Next event, come and see me before you compete. And perhaps more importantly, why not come and see me in the clinic now for a check up?

Dr Sam Bettison (Chiropractor and fellow #AdaptCF Crossfitter)

  1. 1. Haavik H, Murphy B, Subclinical neck pain and the effects of cervical manipulation on elbow joint position sense. J Manipulative Physiol Ther. 2011 Feb;34(2):88-97
  2. 2. Marshall P, Murphy B, The effect of sacroiliac joint manipulation on feed-forward activation times of the deep abdominal musculature. J Manipulative Physiol Ther. 2006 Mar-Apr;29(3):196-202

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