On the Frontline for Pain: Alan Sokoloff, DC

This October during National Chiropractic Health Month, the American Chiropractic Association and doctors of chiropractic nationwide are working together to promote better access to non-drug therapies and remind people that chiropractic’s non-drug approach is on the frontline for pain management, offering evidence-based treatments that are safe and effective and that may help some patients to reduce or eliminate their dependence on prescription opioids. On the Healthy Living blog this month, we are sharing the stories of chiropractors who are “On the Frontline for Pain.”

Alan Sokoloff, DC

Alan Sokoloff, DC, is the owner and clinic director of Yalich Clinic Performance and Rehabilitation in Glen Burnie, Md. He has worked in many capacities as a sports chiropractor: he has been a member of the University of Maryland sports medicine team since 1991 and has served as team chiropractor for the Baltimore Ravens of the NFL since 1999. He is also a medical team member for the Bowie Baysox, the minor league affiliate of the Baltimore Orioles baseball team. When not treating patients, Dr. Sokoloff works to educate the public about concussion and injury prevention and the benefits of chiropractic.

Q: Dr. Sokoloff, what does a “day in the life” look like in your job?

A: Days can be very diverse, so the perfect example would be yesterday. Yesterday I saw patients in the morning in the clinic, then in the afternoon I saw athletes from a professional football team, then in the evening I saw athletes from a professional baseball team. That is not a typical day, but that can be a day.

Q: Why did you want to become a chiropractor, and how did you end up in sports chiropractic?

A: I wanted to become a chiropractor because I wanted a hands-on job working with people. When I first was interested in chiropractic, it wasn’t that popular here in Maryland, so I saw opportunity there. In undergraduate work, I thought about physical therapy, but physical therapists at that time only worked in hospitals. Then I thought about radiology, but I wanted to work with patients and not pictures. And then I found chiropractic, which kind of included everything that I wanted to do.

I was always interested in sports and athletics from playing in high school and college and enjoyed working with people that really wanted to help themselves get better. And athletes always want to get better.

Q: What type of injuries or pain do your patients experience?

A: Probably 75% of what we do as sports chiropractors and what we treat as sports chiropractors is not an injury, is not pain. Probably 75% is performance enhancement.

At the professional level, these athletes are getting worked on by a lot of different people. My role at the professional level 75% of the time is to work on performance enhancement, meaning that if I can get the lower back and hips to function better, that athlete might be a little faster. If I can help the shoulders and upper back move and function better, somebody might be able to reach for a ball easier and make a reception. Not because those things are broken, but we just want them to function better. The other 25% of what I do with professional teams involves being part of a team to help somebody recover from an injury or a condition. It’s very different in my office, where I or any of our doctors, are the only ones responsible for that athlete’s care when they come to my office. And that’s an athlete at any level. Typically, if little Joey hurt his elbow pitching, we’re going to be involved in all aspects of that, if the doctor of chiropractic is aware in treating little kids’ elbows. But at a professional level, we are just a part of the team of providers helping that professional Joey with his elbow.

Q: How do chiropractors help athletes?

A: Number one, injury prevention. We help with injury prevention because if we can help the body move and function the way the manufacturer designed it to, it is less likely that it will be injured. The better you are, the stronger you are, the less susceptible you are to injury.

Number two is performance enhancement, which I mentioned earlier. If we get things to function the way that they should and then let the body’s ability work around it, we can help somebody move more efficiently, be better, stronger, faster.

Number three is if something goes wrong or if something is injured, we can do whatever we can within our scope of practice to get that person back on the field safer and healthier than when they started.

Q: What makes the chiropractic approach different?

A: Through a detailed consultation and comprehensive physical examination, a chiropractor will find the source of pain, which is not always where the pain is. Many people, especially athletes, may injure an ankle and they don’t think about it, but they’re running around and now it’s causing knee problems. So the athlete says, “my knee hurts.” In a typical medical setting, if it’s an untrained healthcare professional, they will look at the knee and try and get the knee better. Typically sports doctors of chiropractic look at the mechanism of injury and the whole kinetic chain: what’s not functioning well? I see the foot and the ankle are not functioning well, that could be the cause of the knee problem. But let’s also look above, let’s look at the hip and the lower back — what’s the function there? What else could be contributing to the problem? Or what problems are now causing other joints to compensate and not function properly?

Q: Why is it important for athletes to have access to non-drug pain management options?

A: Most athletes are very in tune and in touch with their bodies, so taking certain medications may mask symptoms and in doing so can cause further damage. It also, depending on what drug and the side effects of the drug, can affect performance, can cause balance issues, and can cause other issues that may lead to further injury.

Q: What does it mean to you to be “on the frontline for pain”?

A: From a sports perspective, I am very happy to report that every NFL team has a chiropractor, every Major League Baseball team utilizes chiropractic, and most professional hockey and basketball teams have a chiropractic affiliate. So if something is good enough for these professional athletes, it should be good enough for the general population of people. [We are] working on the frontline to help with pain before it leads to other problems.

Q: What is one thing that the public should know about chiropractic?

A: Every chiropractor is different. Every technique is different. Every office is different. If you go to one chiropractor in one office at one time and you don’t get the results or the satisfaction that you’re looking for, it does not mean that chiropractic doesn’t work. It’s just like any other profession — if you go to a dentist and he hurts you during the exam and messes up your teeth, it doesn’t mean that you don’t need to go to the dentist; you still need to have that care. It’s the same thing in chiropractic — it’s matching the right person with the right provider.