Objective: To analyze chiropractic utilization on National Football League (NFL) medical teams and the role played by chiropractors.
Design: Postal survey of head athletic trainers of the 36 teams. Survey questions were developed from responses to a questionnaire submitted to a pilot group of 30 sport chiropractors and a panel of 20 postdoctoral faculty of the sport chiropractic program of the American Chiropractic Board of Sport Physicians, as well as a representative from the University of South Alabama.
Results: Twenty-two of 36 questionnaires were returned for a return rate of 66%. Of the trainers who did respond, 45% have personally been treated by a chiropractor, and 55% have not. Seventy-seven percent of the trainers have referred to a chiropractor for evaluation or treatment, and 23% have not. Thirty-one percent of NFL teams use a chiropractor in an official capacity on their staffs, and 69% do not. When asked to identify conditions appropriate for referral to a chiropractor, the respondents identified low back pain (61%), "stingers" and "burners" usually associated with neck injury (31%), headaches (8%), asthma or other visceral disorders (0%). All respondents (100%) agree that some players use chiropractic care without referral from team medical staff.
Conclusion: There is significant chiropractic participation in US professional football. Certified athletic trainers see a role for the sport chiropractor in the NFL, primarily as a spinal specialist treating low back and other musculoskeletal injuries. A substantial majority of NFL trainers have developed cooperative relationships with chiropractors, with 77% having referred a player to a chiropractor. Thirty-one percent of NFL teams have a chiropractor officially on staff, and an additional 12% of teams refer players to chiropractors but do not directly retain these chiropractors.