How to Become a Sports Chiropractor: Could This Growing Specialization be Right for You?
If you’re looking for a rewarding career that blends healthcare with sports, you’ll want to explore how to become a sports chiropractor. Below, we answer four important questions to help you better understand how (and why) to pursue this profession.
For related information, be sure to check out How to Become a Chiropractor, which provides in-depth guidance for entering the chiropractic profession.
The following provides details related specifically to becoming a sports chiropractor. To begin, let’s cover what a sports chiropractor is.
1. What is a sports chiropractor?
A sports chiropractor specializes in treating musculoskeletal pain and injury in athletes. Along with providing a variety of hands-on treatment, a sports chiropractor can design plans to help a patient recover faster and even improve their performance. Because of their unique skill set, a sports chiropractor may also work on the sidelines of sporting events.
Common treatment methods of sports chiropractors
Spinal adjustments play a significant role in how most chiropractors—whether sports-focused or not—care for their patients.
But sports chiropractors, based on the needs of their patients, routinely apply additional treatment methods like the following:
- Adjusting extremities
- Applying chiropractic techniques to address problems of the knee, shoulder, ankles, and other joints—as well as the muscles, ligaments, and other tissue surrounding them
- Designing customized rehabilitation programs involving stretching, strength training, and other exercises that help an athlete heal and return to play as soon as possible
- Prescribing exercise plans to optimize specific types of movement necessary for athletic performance
(Note that conventional chiropractors may, for example, attend to extremities and joints as well, just not at the frequency that many sports chiropractors do.)
Understanding who sports chiropractors treat
The patient population of sports chiropractors can include everyone from youth league and high school players to college and professional athletes, as well as weekend warriors. Note, however, that for many sports chiropractors, “athletes,” technically speaking, comprise only a portion of their patient base.
These chiropractors may still apply their specialized approach to patients from all walks of life—like older adults, for example—to help them recover, maintain, and/or improve the strength, balance, and mobility needed for the physical activities they do, or would like to do.
(For related information on what it’s like to be a chiropractor, check out 9 Important Questions About Chiropractic Careers).
2. How long does it take to become a sports chiropractor?
Becoming a chiropractor of any kind first requires at least three years of undergraduate study. You may then be eligible to enroll in a Doctor of Chiropractic degree program, which can take anywhere from three and a half to five years to complete and requires a minimum of 4,200 instructional hours.
You will also need to pass a series of exams administered by the National Board of Chiropractic Examiners and secure licensure in the state (or relevant jurisdiction) where you plan to practice.
If you want to be a credentialed sports chiropractor, you need to complete post-doctoral studies. Depending on the credentials you pursue, this can take anywhere from one to three years. See directly below for more information.
3. What education do you need to become a sports chiropractor?
In addition to obtaining a Doctor of Chiropractic degree, there are a number of other specific considerations to make about your education if you want to become a sports chiropractor. The following provides crucial information to help you make smart decisions on your education path.
Post-doctoral education to obtain sports chiropractor certifications
To be a credentialed sports chiropractor, you’ll need to pursue post-doctoral education to earn additional qualifications.
The American Chiropractic Board of Sports Physicians™ (ACBSP™) is responsible for providing the following official certifications. These not only deepen your expertise but also formalize your sports chiropractor credentials:
Certified Chiropractic Sports Physicians® (CCSP®). To earn the CCSP® certification, you must complete at least 100 hours of post-doctoral education “in specialized sports medicine topics and must pass a board examination.” (Source)
Diplomate of the American Chiropractic Board of Sports Physicians® (DACBSP®). After earning the CCSP, you can attain the DACBSP®, the highest level of sports chiropractor designation. This requires “successful completion of a written exam, a six-station practical exam, a written project, and 250 hours of practical experience in the field.” (Source)
(To see examples of post-doctoral courses that chiropractors take to earn the CCSP®, check out these options offered by NWHSU.)
Now that you have an idea of the post-doctoral requirements it takes to earn sports chiropractor credentials, let’s back up and explore the path to becoming a sports chiropractor, starting with your undergraduate education.
A well-chosen undergraduate major
Majors such as exercise science or kinesiology can serve as helpful preparation for someone who is interested in a sports-focused chiropractic career. These majors typically require a heavy course load in the biological sciences, involve studying the biomechanics of the human body, and cover important principles related to physical fitness.
Note, however, that these and similar majors aren’t absolutely necessary for enrolling in a chiropractic program. If you have questions related to your eligibility for enrolling in a given program, contact the admissions department.
Also, keep in mind that some chiropractic programs, like Northwestern Health Sciences University’s (NWHSU), allow you to complete your bachelor’s degree while attending chiropractic school.
A chiropractic program with a sports emphasis
If you’re interested in becoming a sports chiropractor, you’ll definitely want to explore chiropractic programs that offer a sports chiropractic emphasis. Programs like these can provide you with specific coursework, resources, and hands-on opportunities that prepare you to practice sports-focused chiropractic care.
For instance, NWHSU has a widely respected Doctor of Chiropractic – Sports Emphasis degree. This program gives students the opportunity to advance their learning in areas such as rehabilitation, mobility improvement, and sports injury diagnosis.
Students gain in-depth experience with treatment methods that go beyond the chiropractic adjustment table. This includes learning about and practicing techniques on actual athletes in a gym-like setting or even on the sidelines of actual athletic events.
A good example of what a program’s sports chiropractic resources look like is NWHSU’s Human Performance Center (see below).
NWHSU’s on-campus Human Performance Center (HPC) focuses on clinical care for athletes. In fact, a variety of local and international sports organizations rely on the HPC to help their athletes rehabilitate from injuries, recover from intense competition and training, and maximize their potential with specialized training programs.
In this video, get a glimpse of a chiropractic student’s experience at the HPC.
Through the HPC, students pursuing the Sports Emphasis degree at NWHSU have the opportunity to practice:
- Chiropractic assessments
- Rehabilitation methods
- Strength conditioning
- Sideline care/event coverage
- Pre-participation physicals
- Concussion assessments
This is in addition to internships at the HPC in which students, under the supervision of HPC residents, can work in team clinics and treat high-level athletes and high school students.
In the following video, HPC Director Dr. Andrew Klein describes what it’s like to practice in a setting like the HPC. He also discusses the unique team environment that students can enjoy as they work with both athletes as well as fellow students pursuing careers in other healthcare disciplines.
A program that exposes you to different healthcare disciplines
We’re entering an exciting new era with the advent of integrative healthcare, a patient-centered, team-based approach involving practitioners from various fields working together to help patients.
In sports chiropractic, specifically, you could be working with a team of specialists—from medical doctors and physical therapists to massage therapists and athletic trainers—to ultimately help facilitate an athlete’s recovery and/or improve their performance.
That’s why it’s so important to have an educational experience that prepares you for integrative healthcare. As an example, consider the learning environment at NWHSU.
Why NWHSU’s focus on health sciences matters. NWHSU is 100% focused on the health sciences, and sports chiropractic students can study alongside healthcare-focused students from various disciplines.
They even get opportunities to practice with, for example, acupuncture and massage therapy students in our on-campus clinics, plus work in interdisciplinary healthcare environments, depending on the internships they choose. (Working in NWHSU’s own Human Performance Center, discussed above, is a great example.)
(For related information, check out What to Look for in a Chiropractic Program: 14 Essential Questions to Ask.)
Other certifications to enhance your sports chiropractor qualifications
There are also other qualifications and training opportunities you can seek out prior to becoming a sports chiropractor. These broaden your expertise, prepare you for sports-related environments, and can also make you a more marketable professional. Here are just a few examples:
Certified Strength and Conditioning Specialist® (CSCS®). Granted by the National Strength Conditioning Association, this certification not only helps you understand and communicate more effectively with strength and conditioning coaches; it can be valuable for sports chiropractors who want to develop strength and conditioning programs for their own clients and patients.
Certified Athletic Trainer (ATC®). The National Athletic Trainers’ Association provides this certification, which can be an excellent foundation for working with athletes. (Note that earning this qualification generally requires graduating with at least a bachelor’s degree from an accredited athletic training education program.)
Emergency Medical Technician (EMT). Whether in the gym or on the sidelines, sports chiropractors who are registered EMTs are prepared to provide an added level of support in case of an emergency. There are numerous ways to earn the registration. Start by looking for local organizations online that offer EMT training programs.
4. Why become a sports chiropractor?
As you familiarize yourself with how to become a sports chiropractor, keep in mind the many reasons why it’s a great career choice, such as the following:
Experience the deep satisfaction of getting people back in the game
Your patients could range from weekend warriors and professional athletes to factory workers and octogenarians. They’ll all have different healthcare challenges. But your unique form of chiropractic care can help get them back in their respective “game.” Being able to see them improve and knowing you had a direct role in that can be extremely satisfying.
Stay connected to your athletic roots
Many sports chiropractors are drawn to the profession because of their own background as an athlete. If you’re passionate about health and fitness, love the camaraderie of competitive sports, or just want to maintain a meaningful connection to athletics, a career in sports chiropractic could be a rewarding path for you.
Be a highly valued healthcare resource to sports organizations
The professional opportunities for sports chiropractors have never been greater. There’s a growing recognition that their specialized skill set can facilitate the healing of athletic injuries and also help an athlete’s body recover more efficiently from intense training and competition. (Check out the Professional Football Chiropractic Society’s website for an example of this.)
Gain a valuable skill set for an aging population
A sports chiropractor’s specialized knowledge in optimizing mobility is valuable not only for athletes but also for the aging population. Baby Boomers are the largest segment of the population. They’re also living longer and are more physically active than prior generations. As they age, their need for musculoskeletal-related care and treatment will likely increase.
Help meet the growing demand for alternatives to drugs and surgery
With painkiller/opioid abuse reaching epidemic levels, more and more people, including athletes, are interested in a chiropractor’s non-invasive treatment methods to help deal with a wide range of musculoskeletal problems. This is especially true when it comes to managing pain in ways that don’t involve taking pharmaceuticals.
Your next step: Reach out for more information
Researching the possibilities for your professional future is an exciting time! You’ve just absorbed a lot of information about becoming a sports chiropractor. If you’d like help putting it all in perspective, why not take the next step?
Start your exploration of chiropractic programs today! Reach out to NWHSU for personalized support on your path to becoming a sports chiropractor.