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Three photos of Dr. Hiromichi Nakano at the Summer Olympics in Tokyo
Hiromichi Nakano, DC, DACBSP, CSCS, a 2008 graduate of Los Angeles College of Chiropractic at SCU was selected as a volunteer Team USA Olympic care team provider for the Tokyo Summer 2020 Olympic games that were held in 2021. Photos courtesy of Dr. Nakano, approved for sharing by USOPC.

Chiropractic care & the Olympics: What does it take to be an Olympic chiropractor?

Feb. 7, 2022

The 2022 Winter Olympics are in full swing. Athletes of all kinds who have trained nearly their entire lives have arrived in Beijing for two weeks of international competition for a chance at Olympic gold.

For many of the athletes, chiropractic care plays an integral role in being able to compete at the highest level. Sports chiropractic emphasizes injury prevention, injury recovery, and health and performance care, all of which are vital for Olympic athletes.

But what does it take to be an Olympic chiropractor, and treat the world’s most elite athletes? SCU’s Joseph Horrigan, DC, Diplomate of the American Chiropractic Board of Sports Physicians, and Executive Director, Human Performance Optimization, discusses the provider pathway to the Olympic Games, which is peppered with SCU alumni, past and present.

SCU alumni and past Olympic volunteer providers include Michael Reed, DC, DACBSP, a former Director of Sports Medicine for the United States Olympic & Paralympic Committee (USOPC); Dustin Nabhan, DC, DACBSP, a former Vice President of Sports Medicine, USOPC; Julia Johnson, DC, DACBSP, 2020 Olympic Games (held in 2021) Team USA chiropractic care team and currently employed by the USOPC in Colorado Springs; Jason Reynolds, DC, DACBSP, a former USOPC employee in Salt Lake City; Brett Guimard, DC, DACBSP, LAc, and Chad Barylski, DC, DACBSP, who were both former USOC employees at the former Chula Vista Olympic Training Center; and Hiromichi Nakano, DC, DACBSP, CSCS, a 2020 Olympic Games (held in 2021) Team USA chiropractic care team provider. 

Dr. Nakano, a 2008 graduate of Los Angeles College of Chiropractic at SCU was born in LA and grew up in Japan. “I still remember the moment and day that Tokyo was selected to host the 2020 Olympics. I was taking the American Chiropractic Board of Sports Physicians™ (ACBSP™) seminar and studying sports medicine in Atlanta GA, sitting next to Dr. Moreau, who was the medical director at USOPC at that time. It was a special feeling to go back to my country with TEAM USA. My experience as an Olympic volunteer physician gave me so much confidence in my background and training, knowing that I was selected to treat the best athletes on the planet. I studied and prepared for this opportunity for about eight years.”

Dr. Nakano attributes his success at LACC at SCU and his successful career path to many things. “I graduated from acupuncture college in Japan at the age of 22 and started learning English at the age of 25. It was not an easy or normal path, but I’m grateful for it, and for who I am, now. I am also extremely lucky to have great friends from SCU and the ACBSP™ to learn and train alongside. Without their help, I wouldn’t be who I am, now.”

SCU alumni present Olympic providers include Jennifer Watters, DC, DACBSP, LAc and Kevin Pierce, DC, DACBSP, who are serving at the current 2022 Beijing Olympic Games.

What’s the selection process to be part of the U.S. Olympic Committee’s Sports Medicine team?

“Education and training in chiropractic sports medicine is mandatory to understand the many parameters of the sport, injury patterns, physiology and biomechanics of the sport, environmental factors, nutrition, and sports psychology,” says Dr. Horrigan.

Chiropractors as well as a wide range of other health care professionals, including physical therapists,  physicians, orthopedists, internists, licensed acupuncturists, and massage therapists, who wish to apply for a spot on the team will go through a selection process with the United States Olympic & Paralympic Committee Sports Medicine department.

According to the USOPC, DCs must be credentialed for a minimum of three years, carry malpractice insurance, have no disciplinary actions against them, and currently practice sports chiropractic. A U.S. chiropractor who is not board certified in chiropractic sports medicine has little to no chance of ever working at an Olympic Games. DCs who pass the application process will then be sent to 2-week volunteer rotations at one of three Olympic training centers, Olympic qualifying events, or international games around the globe, to work with the athletes and be evaluated on how they care for the athletes in training, as well as the coaches, other applicants, and health care providers who are already part of Team USA. All of these qualifications, rotations, and working events allows the doctor to acquire points towards selection. Along the way, applicants are narrowed down, as only a limited number will make the final cut to be part of Team USA.

What’s it like, treating Olympic competitors?

Dr. Horrigan says that “we often refer to the Olympic athletes as the 1%. Olympic level athletes are different from everyone else. It is more than hard work to become an Olympic athlete. The athlete must have the genetic make-up, desire, drive and hard work to reach this level. These athletes often need less care than an average patient. These athletes tend to be hyper-responders to care. They are amazing people.”

What are the most tried and tested chiropractic techniques to help athletes enhance their training and compete at peak performance?

“The majority of the care is some form of manual therapy including various forms of soft tissue mobilization, joint mobilization, joint manipulation, cupping, stretching and exercise/rehabilitation. The decision on which form of care will be provided is based on the history, examination and diagnosis. The timing of the care is critical as well,” explains Dr. Horrigan.  

SCU has a rotation opportunity agreement with the United States Olympic & Paralympic Committee (USOPC). Do all U.S. Chiropractic schools offer this opportunity, or is this unique for SCU?

“The rotation relationship with the USOPC is unique to SCU,” says Dr. Horrigan. “The rotations vary in length from a few days, up to two weeks. There are multiple rotations for the SCU Chiropractic Sports Medicine Residents, however, students aren’t permitted to rotate at an Olympic Training Center, or Olympic site.”

How does an event like the Olympics help raise awareness of chiropractic sports medicine and its necessity for athletes – and ordinary people, alike?

Dr. Horrigan says that “when good sports medicine chiropractors receive attention for elite sports care, this does raise the visibility and advancement of our field. Routine patients often like to see DCs who have experience in treating Olympic and elite athletes as the patient feels they will receive the best possible care.”

“SCU provides an excellent education program and clinical experience which prepares future DCs to go beyond with their sports medicine education and training,” says Dr. Horrigan.

Interested in a career that helps keep athletes in the game?

For the next two weeks, the world will be watching the most elite athletes in the world compete for the gold. Of course, none of these athletes can win by themselves. They have an entire support team. Chiropractic sports medicine is an integral part of that team.

If you’re interested in a career in keeping exercisers, weekend warriors, athletes, and even Olympians in the game through a career in chiropractic, visit the Sports Medicine Chiropractic page for more information, or call (562) 475-4604 to speak with an admissions advisor about getting started at SCU!

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