A couple of months ago OptumHealth Performance had their grand opening. They are a full service multi-sport shop that has coaching, masters classes, gear, and more. At the event I had the pleasure of hearing pro triathlete Pip Taylor speak. Pip is not only an accomplished endurance athlete, but a nutritionist and the co-author of Racing Weight (a great book). During her presentation she touched on the idea of getting a thorough examination during the “off season” to set yourself up for peak performance and an injury free season. As a Chiropractor, a Triathlon Coach, and an amateur athlete myself, I endorse this idea. Depending on your health and fitness goals and challenges, you may need a slight “tune-up” or a major “overhaul,” but the off-season is a great time to address those needs so as not to interfere with your training goals.
The areas to address are structural health, mental (Neurologic) health, and chemical health. I call that the Triad of Health. Let’s take a quick look at each one:
As an athlete you’ve probably experienced your share of niggles (those nagging injuries that don’t quite keep you from training, but are definitely annoying). Sometimes people deal with more severe injuries as well. Rotator cuff tears, plantar fasciitis, and lower back pain can all be common place occurrences in the life of an endurance athlete. One common example that shows up at my clinic is during the base training months building up to peak performance. A brave soul, let’s call him George, has decided to take on the challenge of completing a triathlon. Without knowing how to swim, George jumps in head first (pun intended). After reading online about how Hunter Kemper got ready for his last season, George sets out to swim a modest 20,000 meters every week. After three weeks George has a searing pain in the front of his left shoulder every time he lifts his arm above his shoulder. Unfortunately, lifting your arm above your head is pretty key if you’re wanting to complete a triathlon. So George shows up in my office and wants me to fix him. After an examination, I determine that George has managed to lose stability in his bicep tendon. I give him a treatment, he feels immediately better. I advise him to come back in a couple of days so I can reassess him and make sure everything is responding as we hoped. I also recommend he gets a few swimming lessons.
George’s story is a great example of a problem that is primarily due to structural imbalances and can be remedied through structural means, such as a chiropractic adjustment, some therapeutic massage, or perhaps some kinesio-taping. More often though there is an underlying chemical or neurologic imbalance that is setting someone up for injury. Let’s take a look at another story.
Jill has also decided she will take on a new challenge in the upcoming year. She’s completed sprint and Olympic distance triathlons and this year she’s going to tackle an Ironman. She knows it’s going to mean more training and she wisely chooses to hire a coach to guide her to her goals. Jill also works full time, is married, and has a 9 year son and a 13 year old daughter. Jill’s husband, Matt, is on board with Jill’s goal and promises to help shoulder a bit more of the parenting duties in the upcoming months. Training starts out well. However, as the weeks turn into months Jill is becoming increasingly fatigued, her coach is showing her that her power output on the bike isn’t what it used to be, she’s becoming depressed and now the bottom of her feet are starting to hurt every morning when she gets out of bed. Her friend George mentions how chiropractic helped him and recommends Jill seek help. So Jill ends up in my office as well. I do a total health scan and find out that Jill and Matt have been strapped for cash lately and there is a lot of stress about how to pay for their son’s piano lessons and their daughter’s soccer team. On top of that, increased time training has lead to decreased quality time with Matt and they’ve been snapping at each other a bit more easily lately. In short, Jill is under more stress than before. As part of my total health scan, I put patients through a stress response evaluation that involves monitoring brain wave patterns, heart rate variability and half a dozen other physiologic parameters while the patient is put through cognitive, emotional, and physical stressors. In a consultation after the total health scan in which I’m reviewing my findings with her and giving her the answers to what is causing the foot pain, Jill is surprised to learn that the foot pain, the depression, and the lack of power on the bike are all coming from the same place. Her nervous system is stuck in fight or flight mode. I show her how her Beta brain waves are excessively engaged at the wrong times and her autonomic functions are completely disproportionate to the stressors that she’s under. Because her body is in a constant state of readiness and defense, she never has a chance to heal. I advise Jill to start getting adjusted twice a week, at which time we’ll also do some biofeedback. The adjustments act as a neurologic pattern interrupt and stimulate her brain wave activity and promote the parasympathetics, or the part of the nervous system that promotes healing and growth. The biofeedback trains her body to have appropriate and proportionate responses to stimulation and stress and to recover quickly. During this time, she’s able to continue training as the pain goes away quickly, her outlook on life and her relationship with Matt both improve, and she manages to achieve her goal of completing an Ironman in good health.
Lastly, let us consider Bob for our example of chemical health. Bob has been competitively training for 3 years to achieve a high status as a duathlete. Although, he’s worked hard in training and been diligent in counting calories, Bob’s coach continues to cite his weight as the reason he can’t quite hit his goal of consistent podium finishes at local duathlons. Bob comes to me wondering if I can help. I put Bob through the total health scan with a focus on chemical health. While finding some similar neurologic patterns to Jill that are resulting in shunting blood away from the digestive tract, thus making digestion less efficient, I also uncover three food sensitivities. After eliminating soy, wheat, and aspartame from his diet (the foods that showed up as sensitivies upon testing) the weight that he had been diligently attempting to shed melted off, propelling him to his desired race pace.
Both George and Jill came to see me for a pain they were experiencing that they believed were due to training. They are completely different causes and had completely different treatment plans. Bob came in for another reason, and we addressed his unique health challenges effectively. Having a total health scan includes a complete structural examination and also a neurologic exam. A functional medicine assessment can be administered to gather information about the chemical side of our health as well including inflammation, liver, kidney, and adrenal function, protein and carbohydrate metabolism and so on. No matter what new challenge your taking on this year, whether it’s a new level of competition or simply staying fit in a world full of stressors and, let’s face it, mostly unfit people, do yourself a favor and get a baseline look at where you’re starting from so that you’ll be able to work smarter, not harder to achieve the successes you deserve.
Yours in health!
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