For most of my running career I’ve been blessed to be relatively injury free — apart from a few hip issues and one knee injury, I’ve never been sidelined for more than a few weeks. Additionally, ever since I boosted my strength workouts and got some major injury-prevention advice from my former running coach, I’ve been running smoothly for the past three years or so.
However, I realize that injuries are simply part of just about any athlete’s journey — and we have to accept and embrace them when they come. Also, we have to take preventative measures to avoid injuries altogether — which often means doing additional stretches and strengthening workouts and seeking professional help along the way.Since we discussed whether running is for everyone the other week, I was intrigued when I heard from Dr. Danielle Cranfield, a Nashville chiropractor, about chiropractic care for runners. Many runners battle injuries throughout their career and doctors like her are trying to help us stay healthy during each mile.
I’ve never seen a chiropractor, and to be honest, had never considered going to one for running injuries/injury prevention. I’d always thought that physical therapy was the only and best solution to sports injuries, but Dr. Cranfield explained the difference between these two types of support and dispelled a few negative myths about chiropractors.
I visited Dr. Cranfield’s downtown Nashville the other day, which is quite welcoming and cozy!She gave me a quick assessment and we realized that my hips are quite uneven! Look how “short” one of my legs is compared to the other:Dr. Cranfield explained that with a few alignment and core exercises, I could probably straighten myself out in a couple of months and avoid any serious damage. Furthermore, she said that she’s helped a number of runners adjust their form and posture — not only helping them stay injury free, but also helping them boost their race times I interviewed Dr. Cranfield and asked some beginner-level questions about chiropractic care for runners. As someone 100% new to this field of care, I found her answers quite educational. See if you learn anything new and feel free to ask additional questions in the comments section!
1. How can chiropractic care help runners in overcoming and preventing injuries?
To best answer this question, I have to address the core premise behind chiropractic, which is ultimately very simple: To be healthy, you need proper function of the nervous system and balanced joint biomechanics and structure. Chiropractors look at the whole picture, not just one or two symptoms, and this is because we base everything off the nervous system and its protection by the spinal column and how it relates to function. A healthy nervous system without interference from subluxations and restrictions is very important because it controls all other systems of the body. Nerves go everywhere, to the muscles, eyes, lungs, heart, and many other organs, which is why it is so frustrating to chiropractors when we only see patients coming in with pain or have patients who only associate chiropractors with pain management! Don’t get me wrong, we can do a lot in regards to helping with back aches, headaches, and injuries, but we prefer to avoid getting to the point of symptoms by using preventative chiropractic, postural exercises, and healthy lifestyle changes.
Recently, there has been a shift with the newer generation of chiropractors to actually seek out the healthier and more active population to help advance their health (as well as their performance) and educate them on how to maintain their results long after their treatment ends. I’ve seen first-hand how much easier (and less expensive) it is to prevent the problem in the first place than to try to fix the problem once it’s there.
Now as far as runners and preventing injuries, it just makes common sense that having proper muscle tone, balanced and aligned spine and joints, and correct posture will benefit the individual in the long run as well as with enhanced performance over those running with an imbalanced pelvis putting tension on the TFL and weakening the gluteus medius. I compare this a lot to driving a car, which ironically people tend to care for much better than themselves in some cases! A car with proper alignment and rotated tires is going to run much better than a car being driven with a flat tire. Eventually, that flat tire is going to cause the rest of the vehicle to malfunction. Our bodies do the same when we have a seemingly little misalignment. Over time this will cause compensation of posture and muscle imbalances and all of this will impact the nervous system to function at less than 100%, and anytime that happens our health is compromised and degeneration can take place.
What a chiropractor can do in these situations is evaluate the spine, joints, muscle tension, fascia, posture, and nervous response from the patient and determine the correct alignment for that individual, deliver a specific corrective adjustment to those areas, address the muscles and fascia with manual therapy, trigger point release and active release, and give each person the exercises and stretches they need to correct their posture. And that’s it! Even if someone does not think they have any issues, it never hurts to have a chiropractor check their spine before symptoms arise, being pain-free is never an indicator of good health, and a chiropractor is a good place to start correcting and improving overall health.
2. Can you explain the differences and similarities between chiropractors, sports massage therapists, and physical therapists?
There are many differences between these professions and there is a great purpose for each field. Physical therapists are most common to see after any traumatic injuries or surgeries, they are highly trained in recovery processes and restoring range of motion after scar tissue starts to develop and they are amazing at preventing scar tissue post-operative. In most cases though, you will need a physician referral and it will be a vigorous process of recovery. In contrast to chiropractors, they cannot perform any articular adjustments to joints. As a chiropractor, I would not want to have a patient come in after a ACL repair, I’d send them to a PT. After the PT has completed the therapy, I then would love to see this patient to help correct any spinal imbalances and compensation patterns that have developed from guarding the knee. I’d also focus on continuing to release adhesions that formed from such a surgery. In this situation, a sports massage therapist is a great way to get even more therapeutic release of these adhesion and they are more focused on the actual problems than a regular, relaxation massage therapist. In a way, all three work great together in helping patients get back to health.
One huge difference in a PT vs. a DC is the symptoms. As I described earlier, chiropractors want to work with people before a problem arises and focus on prevention, a PT is usually going to be treating someone with an established and advanced issue.
3. What injury prevention tips would you give runners, especially distance runners?
Make sure you are balanced! Also, if you find you are constantly having TFL issues, look to ways to strengthen your gluteus medius and vastus medialis instead of just foam rolling. Many times this issue develops from weakness in these muscles. Also, have someone check your ribcage and intercostal muscles. I had a patient before that had severe restriction in his ribcage that impacted his stamina. He had much better lung capacity and expansion after regular chiropractic care that addressed his ribcage and he noticed he could run much farther distances without becoming fatigued due to this one change.
4. What are some of the most common mistakes you see among runners and athletes?
Proper running biomechanics and not landing mid-foot. Many runners and athletes tend to run heel to toe and believe it or not this is not correct. It is best to land closer to your midline and push off rather than heel-strike to pull to propulsion. Another common mistake mainly seen in working out is not doing a proper squat. Your torso should be parallel to your tibias and all your weight should be centered to your heels. These example are just a few that can make a difference in preventing injuries.
5. What sort of facts or success stories can you offer to dispel common chiropractic myths?
A common myth that a lot of medical practitioners use against chiropractors is that you cannot see these misalignments and subluxations on x-ray. This is mainly because they are not trained to recognize these sign as an issue, but to a chiropractor they can clearly be identified. I have a perfect example of radiographs on a patient of mine before and after treatment and you can clearly see how many changes were made to her spine, disc spaces, and posture.
Many people also don’t recognize chiropractors as doctors, which is absurd. Chiropractors receive the same (if not more) training than medical doctors in addition to the chiropractic education. In fact, we have to be trained this way in order to recognize when something is a chiropractic issue versus needing a referral. We actually attend more hours in anatomy and physiology, radiographic diagnostics and differential diagnostics than most physicians. I just think we get a lot of stigma mainly because we tell patients that they don’t need drugs or surgery for something that can be treated conservatively with chiropractic care, exercise, and proper nutrition.
As far as success stories, it’s hard to narrow down! I’ve had several patients with hardware in their necks afraid to get adjusted but in severe pain with constant migraines. I assure them I will not be adjusting the fused segments but only those 2 above and below and guarding the fusion to put them at ease. I can also use instruments when necessary for those afraid of their neck being manually adjusted. Every single patient I’ve adjusted with fused cervicals have been rendered pain-free and headache free, and these are people who have suffered for years!
I’ve seen patients with peripheral neuropathy (either from diabetes or M.S.) that have had huge improvements from just having their spine and extremities adjusted with proper nutrition. Many patients that are on a waiting list for knee replacements or knee surgeries give one last shot with chiropractic and find that they actually can lessen their pain with adjustments and strengthening exercises.
Really, the best examples are all the people that had never tried chiropractic before but are so glad they did because they never knew how good their bodies were designed to feel! Many had been dealing with pain and medications for so long only to realize that their headache or back ache wasn’t an aspirin deficiency but rather was due to a subluxation or nutritional issue. It feels good as a chiropractor to give people an option that they never knew possible and to positively change their lives for the better just by providing an alternative view to health and actually trying to find the root of the problem instead of covering up the symptoms, and in doing so give the patient the proper tools to maintain their best results by being an active participant in preventing their own health issues.