NWHSU Alumnus Hirad NajafBagy Built a Thriving Career as a Sports Chiropractor
When chiropractic students dream of a career as a sports chiropractor, they imagine themselves working with world-class athletes who compete as professionals on the world stage, serving professional sports teams, standing on the sidelines of world championship games, and getting called onto the field to assess and assist athletes with acute injuries.
They’re dreaming of the career that Hirad NajafBagy, D.C., has built for himself since graduating from the Doctor of Chiropractic program at Northwestern Health Sciences University in 1997. Because of his vision, hard work, and dedication, Dr. Bagy went on to build a successful private practice, United Wellness Sports Rehab, working with individual athletes and became an indispensable, integrated member of the medical teams supporting professional sports teams in the Washington D.C. area.
Dr. Bagy’s experience working with professional sports teams spans several decades. In 1998, he became the official team chiropractor for the D.C. United Major League Soccer team. He also served as team chiropractor for the 2002 and 2004 Major League Soccer All-Star games and the 1999 and 2003 Women’s World Cup teams. In the last ten years, he’s also supported the USA National Soccer Team, Washington Freedom, and various teams during the MLS Cup. In 2010, Dr. Bagy began working as team chiropractor for the NFL’s Washington Redskins; and in 2011, he was named team chiropractor for the MLB’s Washington Nationals.
“After practicing for almost two decades, you always look back to see what you would change or what you would do differently,” says Dr. Bagy. “I honestly have to say I am very fortunate to do what I’m doing. I was very fortunate to go to Northwestern Health Sciences University.”
Deciding to study chiropractic
While Dr. Bagy knew as an undergraduate that he wanted to work with athletes, he researched several medical professions before deciding to pursue a Doctor of Chiropractic degree.
“As an undergrad at George Mason University, I was a pre-med student and always looking for the best and the most advanced ways to be able to help athletes,” says Dr. Bagy. “I looked at orthopedics, internal medicine, and osteopathy.”
Three months before he enrolled at NWHSU, Dr. Bagy had never seen a chiropractor or heard of the chiropractic profession.
“I met a doctor of chiropractic who was doing some screenings and talks, and I was interested,” says Dr. Bagy. “I told him that I was going to become a doctor of sports medicine, probably an orthopedist, and he said, ‘Well, come over, check this out. See what we do. I’m a chiropractor.’ Three months later, I was at Northwestern Health Sciences University studying chiropractic.”
Once Dr. Bagy decided to earn his Doctor of Chiropractic degree, he wanted to find the most progressive program that would make him into a complete doctor. He visited six chiropractic schools, and determined that NWHSU would provide the education that he needed to become a good and complete doctor, and also provide him the knowledge and skills needed to become a sports medicine chiropractor.
“As I visited the schools, one of the questions that I asked was, ‘how do you see the body as a whole?’” says Dr. Bagy. “NWHSU was one of the few schools, if not the only one, that explained the body as a whole. They told me that the body is not just the spine, the extremities, the function of the body was important as well. After talking to the professors and the doctors and staff, I could tell that they were looking at things from both sides, both in a holistic way and a biomechanical way.”
Starting a career as a sports chiropractor
After graduation, Dr. Bagy moved back to Virginia, which was home for him, and began working for a chiropractic doctor as an associate in her new clinic.
“She put me in a leadership role the first day the door opened, so I learned a lot,” says Dr. Bagy. “Soon after I started working with D.C. United, the professional team that was down the street, the sports medicine aspect of the practice improved.”
When Dr. Bagy started working with D.C. United 23 years ago, he was one of the first chiropractors in any major sports to be directly affiliated with a professional team. Initially, chiropractic was thought to be an adjunctive therapy.
“At that point, sports medicine as a chiropractor was a new thing,” says Dr. Bagy. “I had to explain what sports chiropractic was to our trainers, to our orthopedist, to our whole franchise and players. Once the players started to see the results, they would line up and sit there for 15, 20, 30 minutes to have some work done by me. Then it received the attention of the medical team, and slowly but surely I was incorporated into the rehab and performance aspect of the whole team.”
Since becoming more integrated with the trainers and the orthopedists on the professional teams that he serves, Dr. Bagy’s role has expanded to medical rehabilitation and performance. He’s now invited to work on the sidelines where, with football for example, if a player gets injured, the orthopedists and the trainers go onto the field. The team evaluates the player, assesses his injuries, and then they bring the player off the field and quickly administer the appropriate treatment.
The day after the game, Dr. Bagy is in the training room where players are assessed by the orthopedist and the trainers, and then serves as an integral part of the rehabilitation program with the teams. He works with team doctors to get an update as to the condition of the players, then helps develop a treatment protocol and plan that incorporates chiropractic in not only the rehabilitation phase but also into performance and injury prevention.
Maintaining a sports-focused private practice
Throughout the years, United Wellness & Sports Rehab has grown into a comprehensive office providing integrative care to a wide variety of patients, according to Dr. Bagy. The practice offers acupuncture, massage, holistic internal medicine, pilates, and yoga, with up to 23 different holistic and alternative healthcare providers in the office.
“Most of our patients on a daily basis consist of active adults and we love these patients because they’re very motivated to get better,” says Dr. Bagy. “They continue to want to improve on their sport and stay active. Both our day-to-day patients and our professional athletes not only are interested in recovery but also in performance enhancement, so it’s really great to work with them.”
Even though Dr. Bagy enjoys his work with professional athletes, he still very much enjoys seeing amateur athletes as well.
“My start was with the weekend warrior, with the high school athlete, with the local gym and weightlifters, not the professional athlete,” says Dr. Bagy. “With this type of athlete, we work on honing their skills, learning what works for the athlete, and working with them.”
The evolution of sports chiropractic education
In 2019, Dr. Bagy came back for a visit to Northwestern Health Sciences University to see the advances that the university has made in sports medicine education. He brought the training staff of the Washington Nationals along on a tour of the NWHSU facilities, including the Human Performance Center.
“I was so impressed by the quality of students, by the depth of their knowledge, by their curiosity, by their training,” says Dr. Bagy. “And I was very impressed to see the sports performance aspect of NWHSU, the technology that they were using at this point to assess and also to help the athletes perform, all around and incorporating so many different holistic integrated therapies into the program.”
Dr. Bagy was also impressed to discover the breadth of athletes supported by NWHSU’s Human Performance Center—from big professional sports such as soccer and football, to Olympic sports such as wrestling and weightlifting, to lesser known sports like Ultimate Frisbee.
When asked if he had any advice for students who are interested in pursuing a career as a sports chiropractor, Dr. Bagy shared his expertise on how to build the skills necessary for a career supporting professional athletes.
“I would recommend a student start with the amateur athlete,” says Dr. Bagy. “Work your way up, learn your skills, continue to improve, build your toolbox with the tools that you need and the professional athlete will eventually find you and come in and seek help. And as you continue to develop those tools, you’ll find out what makes you unique as a chiropractor. You have to be humble and willing to learn and you have to work hard.”