Athletic Performance and Chiropractic

This week I will be looking at a study published in the Eurupoean Journal of Applied Physiology, done by Dr. Heidi Haavik. Dr. Haavik is a Chiropractor in New Zealand who also has a PhD in Neurology.

The aim of this study was to evaluate the effects of a single Chiropractic adjustment on certain parameters of athletic performance. Let’s take a quick dive in.

Who Was Studied?

11 Participants completed the study overall. Subjects were elite Tae Kwon Do athletes who had represented their country in the previous 12 months in international competition. Their ages ranged from 17-50 years of age.

What Was Studied?

This study utilized a randomized crossover structure that had an intervention group and a control group. Randomized crossover means that study participants were randomly assigned to one group and then after a single intervention they would crossover and participate in the other group. For example, the group that received the tested intervention, would then join the control group the following week. This study design allows researchers to weed out numerous variables that could affect results.

Surface EMG was utilized to test for V wave during a maximal voluntary contraction (MVC) of the calf muscles before and after Chiropractic adjustment or the control (the control in this case as a simple passive movement of the joints rather than an actual adjustment).

In short, V wave is a means of measuring the function of the nervous system and it’s coordination between the brain, spinal cord, and muscles during contraction of muscles. (This is a very short definition of V wave. If you were looking for a doctoral explanation, my apologies).

What Happened in the Study?

Researchers found that the groups who received a Chiropractic adjustment showed increases in strength related to MVC of the soleus (calf) muscle and an increase in amplitude in the V wave associated with the contraction for up to thirty minutes after the adjustment, as opposed to the control group who actually showed a reduction in MVC force and V wave amplitude following their placebo intervention.

What Does It Mean?

Being such a small sample size in the study, we can’t make any large claims about what the study found, however it lends itself to a growing body of evidence (mostly done by Dr. Haavik) that the Chiropractic adjustment improves nervous system function in the brain and spinal cord especially as it relates to improving force of muscle contraction. In my opinion, as it relates to athletes, I still believe that athletes who utilize Chiropractic as part of their training regimen should seek Chiropractic care AFTER training and AFTER competition to possibly assist their nervous system to return to a normalized baseline and aid in recovery. Effects like the ones found in the study are too transient to show much improvement in performance from a pre training or pre competition adjustment. This is, however, a very interesting study nevertheless.

Christiansen, Thomas Lykke et al. “The effects of a single session of spinal manipulation on strength and cortical drive in athletes.” European journal of applied physiology vol. 118,4 (2018): 737-749. doi:10.1007/s00421-018-3799-x


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