It all began on March 3, 1983. That was when Darcy Rota, a left-winger and first-round draft choice of the Chicago Black Hawks later traded to the Vancouver Canucks by Atlanta, was referred to me with a neck injury and exacerbating cervicogenic headaches.
I was a Canucks season ticket holder at the time and had occasionally treated some of the players from their first season of 1970-’71 in the National Hockey League (NHL). Darcy responded almost immediately to his chiropractic care, and 18 days later he set a club record for left-wingers with his 41st goal of the season. He referred to me the famed Canucks head medical trainer Larry Ashley, who had been suffering for some time with a similar complaint. Ashley also responded favourably, and subsequently invited me to be the chiropractor on staff with the Canucks. This season will mark my 24th year with the team, making me the longest-serving member of the medical staff.
Unfortunately, Larry Ashley died prematurely. His position as head of the training staff went to Mike Burnstein in the 1994-’95 season when he became the youngest head trainer in the NHL. Certified athletic trainers Jon Sanderson and Marty Dudgeon work with Burnstein today.
Darcy Rota and I have remained the closest of friends and golfing buddies through the years. Part owner of the Burnaby Express of the B.C. Junior Hockey League, he brought in my young associate at the time, Dr. Glenn Cashman, to be that team’s chiropractor. Cashman was later able to join the Vancouver Giants, a major junior team that will host the Memorial Cup finals this spring. Last year, he also served on the medical staff of the World Junior Hockey Championships. Naturally, I am very proud of his achievements.
Working with the Canucks has truly been a post-graduate course in clinical diagnosis, which, in such a collaborative environment, can’t help but improve one’s neurologic/orthopedic knowledge. In managing musculoskeletal problems, the team chiropractor must determine when to order the appropriate diagnostic tests and imaging studies in order to arrive at an appropriate diagnosis. This helps to establish a proper baseline for management of the elite amateur and professional athlete in all sports, not just the Canucks hockey club.
The other members of the Canucks’ medical team include: Dr. Bill Regan, orthopedic surgeon; Dr. Mike Wilkinson, sports medicine physician, director of medical services for the Winter Olympics to be held in Vancouver in 2010; Dr. Alan Boyco, optometrist; and Dr. Jeff Norden, dentist.
PREVENTION AND MAINTENANCE
The training staff is very attuned to both prevention and maintenance care. They are, incidentally, all chiropractic patients, giving them first-hand knowledge of the benefits of chiropractic care. The chief beneficiary of the medical team’s approach is the hockey player, who requires the best of care in order to perform at the highest level. Injury prevention, maintenance, and supportive care are essential.
We have a completely outfitted training room facility that is equipped with an adjusting table, a motion palpation stool, gravitational traction, a cervical traction unit, and all the physiotherapy modalities. Many of the injuries involve facet syndromes, sacroiliac joint dysfunction, costovertebral subluxation complexes, groin strains, and pedal or extremity problems. Additionally, there are lumbopelvic distortions and musculoskeletal imbalances that can lead to a susceptibility to groin, hip and lower back disorders; these result in a myriad of complex signs and symptoms that have to be sorted out so that the training staff can establish a proper baseline and timeline for treatment and rehabilitation.
As the longest-tenured doctor on staff, I am totally comfortable in my role as a fully accepted member of the medical team. I attend all games, the pre-game skate, and some practice sessions. The number of games lost to injury this year is running at less than half, which we like to think is due to the preventive and supportive training that starts in the off-season.
Sports chiropractors often refer to a biomechanical model, i.e., structure governs function. If there is an upset in alignment and joint play motion, function is altered and, because of the linkage that exists in the weightbearing human form, other areas can be affected. With the Canucks, we employ an integrated approach in treating the spine, pelvis and extremities, one that includes mobilization, manipulation, and soft tissue interventions such as muscle energy techniques (METs), proprioceptive neuromuscular facilitation (PNF), myofascial release (including trigger point therapy), stretch and strengthening programs, and some Active Release Techniques (ART).
Stretching is essential for both its rehabilitative and prophylactic qualities, enhancing performance by making muscles more flexible. It stimulates the healing of micro-injuries, increases elasticity and strength, and promotes improved blood supply as well as lymph and venous return, guards against fibrosis and adhesions, and detoxifies the body by restoring oxygen to oxygen-depleted areas. The Canucks’ strength and conditioning coach, Roger Takahashi, who is himself a chiropractic patient, is very much an advocate of this approach.
Stretching and strengthening exercises are prescribed to all of our patients. We also employ aquatherapy in rehab-bing many of the injuries we see in hockey today, especially those involving the hips, knees and lower back.
We are seeing a lot of “new” injuries such as the so-called “sports hernia,” the labral tear (hips, shoulders), compartment syndromes, and groin pulls or tears. Tendon avulsions are common, especially those involving the pubic arch, and some can result in osseous avulsions. At one time, these injuries would be career ending, but today’s improved diagnostic imaging techniques and other investigations permit a proper diagnosis and treatment protocol, leading to a safer return to pre-injury status. However, there is still very much a hands-on approach in the diagnostic workup.
There has been an increase in the number of concussions reported. Head injuries reveal the vulnerability of the cervical spine, especially the upper cervical region, due to the whiplash-type trauma often incurred. In earlier days, players would be given a whiff of smelling salts to get them back onto the ice for their next shift, but this macho strategy did unnecessarily terminate many hockey careers.
Probably because I have been around for so long, I have acquired the sobriquet of Dr. Trivia. I have a “question of the night” for every game; it starts as soon as I park my car at General Motors Place, when the security staff are anxious for the question … and this continues as I encounter the trainers and everyone else. And now, even the players, referees and off-ice officials like to have a go at it.
So here is an easy one for you:
When was the last time Vancouver won the Stanley Cup? (For the answer, please visit www.canadianchiropractor.ca.)
24 Years with the Canucks
Medical team’s chiropractor helps keep Vancouver NHL players on the ice.
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