Using the Thompson Technique on Athletes
By: Kevin Wapelhorst, DC and Wayne Henry Zemelka, DC
Today’s athletes come in all shapes, sizes, and age groups. The one commonality is that their bodies are designed basically the same and are able to adapt to everyday stresses—until they’re pushed too far. Although athletes’ bodies are all designed the same, they are all unique unto themselves.
As Doctors of Chiropractic, we have to take into account the muscle tone, height, weight, age, and sex of the athlete, as well as the sports in which they are competing. We have to also consider any previous injuries, diet, sleep habits, and whether they are using vitamins and/or supplements. All of these variables have to be analyzed before providing quality Chiropractic care and recommendations for these athletes.
I’m going to discuss with you two separate athletes and the care I have provided to them over the last couple of years. First, let me tell you about myself. I grew up competing in track and field, running in 400- and 800-meter races, and I know how an athlete thinks. I utilize the Thompson Technique of adjusting of the spine and the extremities. The segmental drop table is ideal for adjusting the spine as well as the ankles, feet and knees, and the shoulder, elbow, and wrist.
Let’s take a look at my two patient athletes. The first patient athlete (“Patient A”) was in his late 30s when I began taking care of him and is now 40 years old. He has been receiving Chiropractic care most of his life; in addition, he exercises regularly and has a well-balanced diet.
Patient A began exercising, jogging, weight training, and riding a bike to stay in shape and maintain his health. He had a good friend—a Chiropractor and a tri-athlete—who talked him into training with him and competing in triathlons. For all of you who are not familiar with triathlons, the athletes swim, bike, and run in the competition. There are ½ Triathlons and Full Triathlons or Iron Man Triathlons. An Iron Man Triathlon consists of a 1.2-mile swim, followed by a 112-mile bike ride and then a 26.4-mile run.
This patient was definitely exceptional because he ran, swam, and biked. All of these activities affected different parts of the body, and depending upon which activity he was focused on when he came in meant I had to evaluate different parts of his body.
At his peak training before a recent Iron Man in Wisconsin, he was swimming several thousand meters daily, running 10-20 miles 3-5 times weekly, and bicycling 100 miles on a weekend. During this time in Patient A’s training I had to evaluate his whole body. This was quite easy, because the Thompson Technique covers adjusting the pelvis, spine, ribs, shoulders, and knees. I added in some foot/ankle adjusting and orthotic recommendations, to make sure his foundation was solid and that the kinetic chain would function at its optimum.
Let me give some examples of different areas I had to evaluate at various times in his training. When Patient A was focusing more on his biking portion of the competition, I regularly had to adjust his occiput (Bilateral Cervical Syndrome/AS occiput) and his sacrum. The reasoning behind this was his riding posture, which was bent forward with his head in the extended position.
When he was focused on his swimming portion of the competition, I had to evaluate his cervicals, shoulders, and rib cage. With his ribs, I performed the Posterior and Anterior Rib Mobilization adjustments to assure proper function of the rib cage and allow him to take in enough oxygen to perform at his optimum. When he focused on his running, I evaluated and adjusted his feet, ankles, knees, and whatever else was clinically necessary to adjust. I also gave Patient A specific exercises to perform prior to his regular workouts for his low back, shoulders, and cervicals. Since his diet was well balanced and he used vitamins and supplements, I didn’t have to recommend anything special.
My next patient athlete (Patient B) was in the eighth grade when he began coming in to get care. He was, at that time, 5’5” tall and weighed about 105 pounds. Although he was thin, he had good muscle tone. He was playing football and lifting weights to improve his strength and add some weight. He is now 5’6” and weighs about 120 pounds. He competes in football and for the track-and-field team. He typically has weight training 3-5 days per week and runs 3-5 days per week, depending on which sport he is competing in.
When Patient B and his dad first came to see me, I adjusted the young man full-spine and cautioned him on lifting heavy weights, so as not to injure his growth plates. There were no complications with his care while he was in junior high school. That changed, however, when he went to high school—where the game of football was a tradition and the coaches were a bit pushy with the new players.
In high school, he was under a heavy training regimen and felt weak and tired most of the time. I recommended to him, with his father’s support, to begin supplementing his diet with some added protein (i.e., protein shakes). This supplementation would provide the necessary energy to carry him through the training without depleting his body’s sugar and protein stores. After a short time, Patient B noticed a big improvement in his energy levels.
I adjust him now on a regular basis with the Thompson Segmental Drop Technique. With him playing football, I concentrate on his pelvis, spine, shoulders, and lower extremities. During track season, I focused on his lower extremities—especially his knees, feet, spine, pelvis, and rib cage.
A Pair of Success Stories
I adjusted in a similar fashion with both athletes, focusing on the areas that were utilized the most for that specific sport. Both responded very well to Chiropractic care. The first patient athlete had been under regular Chiropractic care for years, exercised, and had a good diet. The second patient athlete was young, and his body responded much better than someone who was considerably older.
Both patients followed through with my recommendations to care and the regular visits to be adjusted on the drop table. Both are success stories, but only because they trained intelligently and followed through with my recommendations for care. The majority of patient athletes are interested in their ability to compete, and most of the time will do what it takes to perform at their best. Remember, you are the Health Coach, helping them in their desire to succeed.
[About the Author]
Dr. Kevin Wapelhorst has been a teaching assistant to Dr. Zemelka for the past four years in the Elective Curriculum at Palmer College of Chiropractic. He is a member of the National Committee on the Thompson Technique.