Chiropractic Effects on Athletic Ability

This section was compiled by Frank M. Painter, D.C.
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FROM:   Chiropractic: The J Chiro Res and Clin Invest 1991; 6 (4): 84–87

Anthony Lauro, D.C. and Brian Mouch, D.C.

The aims of this study were to take a group of athletes, measure each athlete's athletic ability through a series of quantitative tests, and place half the athletes on a specific individualized program of chiropractic care for twelve weeks. The objective in choosing the particular tests was to measure aspects of athletic ability that would be minimally affected by cardiovascular and strength training. All athletes were re-evaluated through the same ability tests after six weeks and the treatment group was evaluated again after twelve weeks. Reaction time was measured before the season began and at six weeks. In the control group, the improvement in reaction time at the six-week check-up was less than 1 percent. On the other hand, the experimental group's reaction time was 18 percent faster.

Keywords:   Sports; Physical fitness

From the FULL TEXT Article:


Most chiropractic research on athletes has consisted of sports injury and rehabilitation through various types of chiropractic care. Morley examined the effectiveness of manipulations of the spine and/or lower extremities in the treatment of chronically injured athletes. His study shows that restoration of joint mobility and reduction of trigger points resulted in a noticeable improvement in ability to perform a particular athletic event and a dramatic reduction in pain. [1]

Green's study utilized Cybex equipment to evaluate musculoskeletal joint dysfunction. Treatment consisted of chiropractic manipulation in conjunction with physical therapy and specific exercise programs, weights and other state-of-the-art equipment. The results were most favorable in the rehabilitation of various joint dysfunctions. [2]

What research has not conjectured is spinal manipulation to correct spinal joint dysfunction or subluxation on the well or asymptomatic athlete and the effect of this manipulation on athletic performance.

The aims of this study were to take a group of athletes, measure each athlete’s athletic ability through a series of quantitative tests, and place half the athletes on a specific individualized program of chiropractic care for twelve weeks. All athletes were re-evaluated through the same ability tests after six weeks and the treatment group was evaluated again after twelve weeks. The changes in athletic performance between the treatment and control groups were statistically analyzed pre- and post-testing proceedings.


After six weeks, both groups, control and experimental, had a change in the average score on each of the 11 tests. The 11 tests are quite different and scores on them are hard to compare directly as they are scored in different units and with some tests a positive and others, a negative change was predicted. It seemed most appropriate to compare the change in average score for the two groups, in relation to each of the 11 tests, keeping in mind that any change could be in the predicted or opposite direction.

In the control group there was a change in the average score in the predicted direction in 8 of the 11 tests. In three cases, the changes were in the opposite direction. Of the 11 changes, 8 involved a change of less than 3 percent. If the signs are adjusted so a change in the predicted direction has a positive sign and a change in the opposite direction has a negative, sum the 11 average changes, divide by 11, an Index of Average Athletic Ability Improvement (AAA) can be derived as a percentage of improvement. In the case of the control group, the (AAA) is 4.5 percent, which might reflect the benefit of having a second opportunity to perform the same tests.

In the experimental group, the average changed in the predicted direction on all 11 tests, and all the improvements were over 3 percent. The derived (AAA) is 10.57 percent.

The control group was disbanded after the first six-week period, so further comparison of their improvement is not available and it is not possible to rule out the improvement as a factor of learning.

Of the 24 subjects in the original experimental group, 20 agreed to continue in the experimental program for another six weeks. At the end of the second six weeks, the subjects were retested. On all 11 tests, they showed additional improvement. The 12-week (AAA) was 16.7 percent.

T-tests were performed on the pre and post scores on the individual tests. The control group showed significant improvement (p<.OOO5) on the Dodging Run and on Speed/Movement. After six weeks and twelve weeks, the experimental group showed significant improvement (p<.OOO5) on all the tests except the Distance Jump, the Horizontal Linear Space Test, and the Standing Broad Jump.


Athletic ability is a very broad term that can have varied interpretation. This study interpreted athletic ability as the areas of performance that are not directly enhanced through routine training programs; that is, the inherent ability of the athlete, Since there is no single test to evaluate athletic ability, it was defined as the combination of five subcategories: agility, balance, kinesthetic perception, power, and speed/reaction time. As there are specific quantitative tests to measure each sub-category, objective parameters could be used to measure the level of athletic performance pre and post chiropractic care. By comparing the change between the scores of the first and second and first and third testing procedures, we could evaluate the effectiveness of the chiropractic care on the athletes as it related to their change in scores.

The objective of this study was to assess the change in overall athletic ability, not so much each specific category of athletic ability. The focus was more on the average percent change of all eleven ability tests which is represented by the Index of Average Athletic Ability Improvement. Both groups, control and experimental, had changes in overall average scores on the 11 ability tests. The experimental group showed a 6.12 percent greater overall improvement than the control group after six weeks. If we can assume that chiropractic care is the cause of the change in performance, we must assume that the diagnosis and correction of subluxation complexes in the subjects are the reasons for their improved performance.

Since all subjects presented asymptomatic with no acute or chronic problems, results support that the subluxation complex can exist without the manifestation of symptoms and still cause a decrease in the body’s ability to perform to its potential. The data also supports that the correction of the subluxation complex enables the body to function and perform at a higher level. Of course, there is extensive literature with varied theories on how and why this takes place. More research is needed in this area but the physiological reasons why chiropractic care enhances athletic performance were not the goal of this study.

On the subject of professional sports and world class athletic competition, this raises another interesting question, How many professional and world-class athletes have been performing well below their true potential due to existing asymptomatic subluxations, and believe they are at peak performance because they are fit, well trained, and are void of symptoms and debilitating injury. One can only speculate the rewriting of the record books should all world-class and professional athletes undergo a program of chiropractic care.

Another question to be considered is when does the athletic performance improvement plateau? There Wes continued improvement of the experimental group after 12 Weeks of chiropractic treatment. In fact, there was more overall average improvement after 12 weeks than after 6 Weeks. Whether improvement would ever cease is still unknown and not within the time limitations of this study. Logically speaking, it would seem that improvement would have to level off at some time, but more research is also needed in this area.


It has been shown that there may be a potential for enhancing athletic ability through chiropractic treatment, when the goal of that treatment is to diagnose and correct existing subluxation complexes, symptomatic or not, For the experimental group of athletes that this study included, the results Were encouraging.

Pilot projects, especially ones that are clinical in nature, often suffer from design problems. This one is no exception. Completely asymptomatic athletes were difficult to obtain. The control group should have been continued through the entire 12 weeks.

Several questions have arisen from this pilot study: Does the chiropractic adjustment to remove subluxation complexes enhance athletic ability? How much can the athlete improve over an extended duration of treatment? Clinically, for the experimental subjects in this study, the answer to the first question is “yes”. The second question can only be answered by further experimentation.

Good science requires replication. It is our hope that this pilot study will become the basis for more research. Emphasis on athletic competition in this country has escalated to disproportional heights in dollars and in personal sacrifice. Potential rewards have pushed the competitive athlete to disregard physical consequences to get the competitive edge. Hopefully, with further research and public awareness, athletes will realize there is a natural method to enhance athletic performance.


  1. Morley JJ.
    Treatment of chronic athletic injuries of the low back
    and lower extremity utilizing manipulation.
    Chiropractic Sports Medicine 1989; 3(1): 4-7.

  2. Green DM
    Optimum evaluation, treatment, fitness, rehabilitation approach
    to musculoskeletal joint dysfunction.
    Chiropractic Sports Medicine 1987;1(1):26-28.

  3. Side-step test.
    A modification of the side step test proposed by
    H.D. Edgren in Research Quarterly, March 1932.


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