Chiropractic in the NFL

For four seasons in the NFL, after having suffered a chest injury while playing my rookie year, I had not been able to breathe properly. I also had severe pain in my chest and rib cage. Previous to Dr. Shaker, I had seen every medical specialist, including other chiropractors—no one could help me. I was struggling to survive in the NFL. After two weeks of Dr Shaker’s treatments, I felt better than I had since the initial injury. I started playing like my old self and was able to split time with starting running back Michael Pittman. I am currently the starting running back for the Chicago Bears. Since then, I have flown Dr. Shaker to Chicago to treat me personally during the season.
-Thomas Jones, Running Back, Chicago Bears

Being a Sports Chiropractor since 1990, I have treated a mélange of elite pro athletes, including many past and present Tampa Bay Buccaneers players, some of whom are:

• Buccaneers All Time Leading Receiver, Mark Carrier
• Buccaneers Super Bowl XXXVII MVP and current Cincinnati Bengals Safety, Dexter Jackson
• Buccaneers Defensive Lineman, Chidi Ahanotu
• Buccaneers Defensive Back, Brian Kelly
• Buccaneers Wide Receiver, Michael Clayton
• Former Buccaneers and current Atlanta Falcons Pro Bowl Running Back, Warrick Dunn
• Former Buccaneers and current Chicago Bears Running Back, Thomas Jones

Running Back Thomas Jones came into the National Football League as the seventh overall pick by the Arizona Cardinals in the 2000 Draft, after having a stellar career at the University of Virginia. After three sub-par seasons, the Arizona Cardinals traded him to the Tampa Bay Buccaneers.

Most NFL players are referred to me by other players. This was also the case with Jones. He was referred to me by a University of Virginia teammate and free agent hopeful named Dwayne Stukes.

Stukes had chronic quadricep and hamstring injuries since college that were not being ameliorated by any other methods that he had tried.
He consulted me, and I utilized the Trigenics® treatment system and completely re-established normal function in his quadriceps and hamstrings. He was so excited by the astounding results, he referred Thomas Jones.

When I initially saw Thomas, he was the most superb example of a mesomorph that I’ve ever observed. There was one glaring problem though. I noticed immediately that his breathing was extremely labored—to the degree that one could see his left scalene muscle straining with every breath. In addition, every strained breath produced a loud, erroneous, disruptive sound.

During my initial interview, he told me that, during the third game of his rookie season, he was running through the line against the Green Bay Packers and was hit very hard in his chest area on a forty-five degree angle from his right side, by a defensive lineman. After he was tackled, he immediately started having difficulty breathing, like in an emergency state. He was carried off the field and taken by ambulance to a local hospital.

MRI’s and CT scans were performed and he was sent to a pulmonologist and a cardiologist. All of the medical tests performed were negative. The allopathic physicians could not give a diagnosis. In an attempt to heal himself, he consulted chiropractors, massage therapists, physical therapists, nutritionists, and trainers from different parts of the country. Unfortunately, he had no relief.

Thomas had two primary complaints:

1. Pain in chest that was exquisitely painful when irritated. He experienced pain every time he was hit.

2. He had difficulty breathing. He felt he couldn’t breathe enough air into his lungs and couldn’t get enough air out. He felt air was trapped inside his lungs. Obviously, he was suffering from respiratory acidosis. Respiratory acidosis occurs when the lungs cannot remove all of the carbon dioxide (a normal byproduct of metabolism) produced by the body. Because of this disturbance of the acid-base balance, body fluids become excessively acidic.

“Respiratory acidosis can be a consequence of any lung disease that prevents removal of carbon dioxide. Common lung diseases that lead to respiratory acidosis include chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD), severe asthma, or airway obstruction. Other conditions that may lead to respiratory acidosis include obesity hypoventilation syndrome, excessive fatigue of the diaphragm or muscles of the rib cage, or severe deformities of the spine and rib cage (for example, severe scoliosis).”1

So we connect the dots. This young man is an NFL running back who gets hit hard on a weekly basis and he has to be able to breathe at a very high level. Both his thoracic cage and related breathing systems were failing him. As a testament to his physical and mental prowess, he continued to play while he was severely injured and thus impaired. Therefore, his production was extremely poor and the coaches and team were upset because their team physicians didn’t know what was wrong with him. Arizona considered him a bust, as he never lived up to what they expected of a player selected seventh overall in the NFL draft.

In 2003, he was traded to Tampa Bay for Buccaneers wide receiver Marquise Walker. Buccaneers’ head coach, Jon Gruden, decided to take a chance on him.

“He’s a thick and quick guy…a quick study, and we think he has some unique running skills that should make things real interesting,” coach Gruden said. He would play out the final year of his original contract in Tampa Bay, after which, he would be a free agent and able to test the free agent market. So, a good year with Tampa Bay would really help increase his value on the free agent market.

Because of my academic and athletic background, I knew that I could help improve Thomas and his condition. Through the Motion Palpation Institute and the tutelage of Dr. L. John Faye, whom I consider to be my greatest mentor in chiropractic, I learned to become an expert in costovertebral, costotransverse, and intercostal joint manipulation. Thorax function, breathing and also function of the cervical and lumbar spine are dependent on these articulations for proper functioning.

By seated Motion Palpation analysis, I discerned that his costotransverse joints and costovertebral joints on the left side demonstrated articular, capsular, ligamentous fixations with associated reactive muscular fixative lesions.

Moreover, what I deduced was that his entire ribcage was partially rotated. He was hit from his right side and that impact on that angle partially rotated his ribcage from the right to the left. That is why his left side was fixated.

So, the partial rotation of the ribcage caused a cascade of neurokinetic chain dysfunctions. The rotation stretched the scalenes, diaphragm, and intercostal muscles. All anatomy integral to breathing became dysfunctional because of the rotated ribcage.

Professional athletes are intrinsically in tune with their bodies. They can feel subtle dysfunctions about their bodies. They can perceive subtle connective tissue dysfunction in their bodies much better than the average person, because they have been training and exercising their entire lives.

Thomas felt his ribs were stuck, and the doctors and professionals he was consulting couldn’t release his ribs. That was his perception. Being an expert in rib manipulation and mobilization, I knew I could help him. I decided to manipulate his ribs using a supine technique first, in order to initially give him some hope of recovery.*

Fortunately, I was able to cavitate the costovertebral and costotransverse joints on the left side. He was extremely excited and felt a sense of relief immediately after those manipulations. He noticed he could breathe a little bit better and he had less pain in his thorax than he had had in the past three years. That was just after one adjustment.

From a manipulation perspective, the left first rib manipulation was also significant, as Thomas’ pectoralis major was involved as a result of the intercostal, costochondral, costotransverse, and costosternal joint dysfunction. “When the first rib is fixated, the following muscles can be involved: anterior scalene, middle scalene, iliocostalis cervicis, levator costorum, and the sternocleidomastoid, indirectly, through its attachment to the clavicle. Scalene involvement also causes a couple of motions of the cervical spine to become fixed and painful as well as initiates occiput C-1 pathomechanics to occur. The levator costorum, as a result of scalene hypertonicities, now places undue stress on the upper thoracic rib cage and then we have a positive feedback loop: anterior structures causing fixations in the posterior structures, and the posterior structures perpetuating the anterior fixations.”2

The pain will present almost anywhere and will cause self-generating mechanisms of decreased mechanoreceptor input, resulting in unchecked nociceptor input and an out-of-control sympathetic nervous system. “The sympathetic nervous system output results in vasoconstriction, reflex muscle spasm, and eventual disuse of the involved structure: a self-perpetuating cycle.”3 This is a good description of part of Thomas’ clinical presentation.

“Chest wall syndromes are definitely a sports-related event, obviously not the only cause, but certainly a common one. The following sports have a component of either trunk flexion alone or trunk flexion coupled with axial rotation. The positional stresses and strains that accompany such activities as golf, tennis, baseball, triathlon, mountain biking/cross-country/trail riding, volleyball, football, soccer, rugby, etc., are a common cause of the subluxation complex being initiated by thoracic cage dysfunction.

The pain from the above thoracic cage dysfunctions may not be at the actual location of the segment in question, as pain is referred to a site either proximal or distal to the actual lesion. If the intercostal nerves are involved, the pain might be referred secondarily to a traction effect by the intercostal muscles, or by the numerous biochemical mediators liberated by the inflammatory response. The pain, in this case, would most likely be referred along the space occupied by this intercostal nerve and not above or below that level. If the dysfunction involves the costochondral junction of the ribs 3-5, then the pectoralis minor could be involved as well, with resultant shoulder joint dysfunction and pain secondary to scapulothoracic rhythm abnormalities.”4 The pectoralis major, if involved as a result of intercostal sprains, costochondral, costotranverse, and costosternal dysfunction, could impair the external oblique muscle’s ability to function as a prime rotator of the lumbar spine, thus causing lumbar pain.

From a Trigenics® perspective, I discerned that the scalenes and diaphragm muscles were the primary source of his breathing difficulty. Initially, I taught Thomas cerebropulmonary biofeedback breathing both utilized in the Trigenics treatment system as well as to re-teach him how to effectively breathe outside of the office. At the time of his presentation, Thomas displayed marked paroxysmal breathing. I decided to start applying the Trigenics® Lengthening (TL) procedures to the left scalenus anticus and medius muscles. I also applied the Trigenics® Strengthening (TS) procedures to the same muscles as well as the intercostal muscles, and diaphragm.

I estimate that the combination of chiropractic manipulation and Trigenics® treatment system application achieved a ninety-five percent success rate over the course of twenty-four treatments. Thomas had an abundance of aberrant afferent and eventual efferent dysfunction, because he had been breathing erroneously for three years, not just as an average person, but as an NFL running back. That is profound: forcing air through a dysfunctional system and trying to exhale air through the same dysfunctional system. He was declining physically and, eventually, was set to be out of the league. It was Trigenics® that helped to re-establish all of the neurokinetics.

After joining the Buccaneers and regaining his health through my intervention, he enjoyed the best season of his career and shared the starting position with Michael Pittman. He then became a highly valuable and coveted free agent and signed a lucrative four year contract with the Chicago Bears that included a signing bonus. The deal was finalized just minutes into the free-agency period.

As a testament to his resurrection, one merely needs to observe the following stats:
In his first 2 seasons with the Bears:

He has produced the best two seasons of his NFL career during his two years with Chicago.
Since joining the Bears in 2004, has rushed for 2,288 yards—the best consecutive seasons by a Bears RB since Neal Anderson gained 2,333 yards from 1989-90.

Recorded 9th best single-season rushing total in franchise history, while establishing a career-high in rushing yards in his fifth-straight season.

Averaged 1,427 yards from scrimmage over last two seasons, which is 36.0-percent of Chicago offense, the second-highest rate in the NFL during that time. (Tiki Barber, NYG, 42.7%)

Dr. Richard R. Shaker is a licensed chiropractic physician and graduate from Life University School of Chiropractic 1988. He was an all-state athlete from Flint, Michigan, and was offered scholarships in both football and baseball. He started the Shaker Chiropractic and Sports Injury Center in 1990. He specializes in a wide variety of neuromusculoskeletal conditions and sports injuries. You may contact Dr. Shaker at 813-876-9552.

For further information on Trigenics®, visit, call 1-888-514-9355 Ext. 1, or email [email protected].


1. MedlinePlus Medical Encyclopedia: Respiratory acidosis
2. What if… by Dr. Keith Innes, D.C., Dynamic Chiropractic, June 17, 1994, Volume 12, Issue 13
3. What if… by Dr. Keith Innes, D.C., Dynamic Chiropractic, June 17, 1994, Volume 12, Issue 13
4. What if… by Dr. Keith Innes, D.C., Dynamic Chiropractic, June 17, 1994, Volume 12, Issue 13

Leave a Reply