The Quest for Athletes’ Peak Performance

Dr. George Le Beau is a 1972 graduate of Cleveland Chiropractic College of Los Angeles. His thirty-four years of continuous private practice have been devoted, in large part, to the treatment of athletes from Gymboree toddlers to the Senior Olympics. Since 1984, Dr. Le Beau has taught more than 350 seminars on spine and extremity techniques to more than 10,000 chiropractors worldwide.

In an interview with The American Chiropractor (TAC), Dr. Le Beau discusses the process by which he grew from a one-doctor, 800 square foot office to Olympic Team Doctor in just over ten years.


TAC: What influenced you to become a chiropractor?
I started at Cleveland Chiropractic College of Los Angeles in September of 1969, shortly after getting out of the Army. I had my Veteran’s school benefits and Disability Award and wanted to go to college.

While trying to decide what I wanted to do, I talked with my brother-in-law, Dr. Art Rehe, in Northern California, who was in this weird kind of school called chiropractic college. At first, I thought he was kidding me; I’d never heard of this stuff! Finally, I went with him to the school, met C. S. Cleveland and Dr. Dorothea Towne and started learning about chiropractic. I thought, “What the heck, I can always quit and try something else if this doesn’t work.”

You all know, as soon as you start chiropractic college, you are assigned a Clinic Doctor and start treatment, right? All of my skepticism left when, within six weeks, the severe acne that I had developed at age thirteen, and continued to suffer from for ten years, completely disappeared! I threw myself into this career and have never regretted it for a minute!

TAC: What kind of practice do you have?
Today, I’m sixty-years-old, and practice part time about twenty hours a week.

My practice is very eclectic. I treat babies, retirees, and families—just about everyone. I currently have about eight or ten serious athletes who compete in professional baseball, full contact karate, diving, auto and bicycle racing. I also have quite a few chiropractors and their families who come to me for treatment on a regular basis.

TAC: How did you go from such a small, “one man office” to the Olympic Team?
Le Beau:
Working with athletes was a goal of mine since my first year in chiropractic college. When I finally did get into practice, I started looking for ways to make it happen.

I have always been a believer in “growing where you are planted;” so, in my first full year in practice, 1973, I started working with the Chargers, Raiders, Broncos, Hawks and Panthers. Of course, they were Pop Warner teams; but, what the heck, you have to start somewhere.

From that first year, I worked with five teams (200 kids, ranging in age from eight to fourteen), two nights a week and all day Saturday, for five years.

The nice thing about working with kids is, they grow up. So, by 1978, I was working with several high school and local college teams. That was the year I was approached by Athletes In Action, a division of Campus Crusade for Christ, and asked if I would come to their practices one day a week to treat their athletes. I took all day Thursdays, drove to the University of California Irvine, in Orange County, and worked with many of their athletes, from six to eight teams including Track & Field, Wrestling & Basketball. About that same time, I also started volunteering as Team Doctor / Athletic Trainer for the San Diego Sharks Semi-Pro Football Team. I continued working with these groups until 1983.

About June of ’83, a former patient that had been a judo athlete contacted me. He had “retired” from competition and was now involved with the National Governing Body of US Judo “in development.”

He said, “Doc, I know you work with all kinds of sports teams. We’re putting together a group of young athletes for a competition and we need a doctor. I was wondering if you would be interested”.

“Sure,” I said. “Where we going?”

“England,” he said.

In October of that year, I traveled with nineteen athletes, two coaches, a manager and several referees to the British Open Women’s Judo Championships. They liked the treatment I provided and, over the next ten years, I traveled to more than fifty national and international sporting events in twenty-five countries on six continents.

TAC: What was that like?
Le Beau:
It was just amazing. As Team Doctor, I had a tremendous amount of authority and responsibility. I could not tell a player he or she had to have an evaluation or treatment; but, if they chose to do so, I would do everything in my experience to help them perform at peak efficiency. One of the young women on that trip won the Gold Medal in the heavyweight division. She came up to me after her presentation and said this was the first time she had ever competed without back pain.

Over that week at Crystal Palace auditorium in London, I treated over a hundred athletes, coaches, referees and officials from several dozen countries and became friends with people who determined future events. I was asked back many times (usually by request) and, whenever I was present at a tournament, I was automatically considered the “unofficial” doctor for many of the teams.

TAC: What is your favorite success story?
: There are quite a few, but the one that I like to tell is about when I accompanied the Junior Olympic Team to the Pan Am Games in Mexico City. These were all tough young guys, trying to prove themselves at their very first International Competition. Our “heavyweight” was a seventeen-year-old athlete named Joey. During his second match, Joey did a spin move and threw his opponent completely over his head and the other player landed flat on his back, ending the match.

Unfortunately for Joey, he had used so much force that the momentum of his move caused him to land on top of his head. He told me later that he started feeling “weird” right away. By the time the referee awarded the match to Joey, he had lost the vision in his right eye. He was freaking out! The coach and other people brought him to the bleachers where some of the medical staff started examining him. The only thing that kept Joey from totally losing it was there were a lot of young pretty girls around.

Finally, the coach said, “Go get Doc.”

I had been in the training room, working on some of the other team members when they told me what happened. When I came up to Joey, I put my hand on his shoulder and said, “Joey I just want to.…”

And he yelled, “Do something!”

His eyes dilated normally; no dizziness, no nausea. Everything checked out OK, he just couldn’t see from the right eye!

While I was evaluating him, I noticed his head was tilted quite a bit toward the right and his Atlas transverse process was sticking out to the left.

I stood behind him, tilted his head to the left (opening the occiput-Atlas joint on the opposite side) and, with my left thumb, I applied a very light thrust onto his left Atlas transverse toward the center of his spine. There was a very slight “pop” and he jumped up and said, “What did you do?”

I took a step back and said, “Why?” (He was a lot bigger than me.)

He then said, “When you popped my neck, it was like a big flash went off in my head and I can see now!”

I stepped a little closer, put my hand on his shoulder and said, “Well, of course, what did you expect!”

Whew, what a rush. I told that story at a seminar in LA and the brother of one of the chiropractors in attendance happened to be an ophthalmologist. He stood up and said he had personally treated people with similar symptoms. He said the prevailing theory was a blockage of the vertebral artery, which supplies blood to the occipital lobe of the brain, where visual images are interpreted. He said the eyes were working OK, but the pictures weren’t getting developed. Then he said, “When you adjusted his Atlas, you removed the interference, restored the blood flow and he was able to see again.”
Works for me.

TAC: As a chiropractor, did you ever experience any resistance to your presence at the Olympic games?
Well, if it had been up to the Medical Committee, I would never have been asked back as Team Doctor. In 1987, the Medical Committee was successful in “bumping” me from the World Championships and replacing me with a medical doctor (a vascular surgeon).

They were never able to do that again. Why?

Think about it. He could not perform any treatment. He could evaluate an injury but, then, he had to make a referral to someone else to do the treatment. He had no idea at all about how to tape an injured extremity for competition and he was certainly unable to provide competent chiropractic care. The resulting uproar from the coaches and athletes assured that I was never “cut” again.

It was this demand that enabled me to travel with the teams. I was traveling with teams so much, it got to the point of disrupting my practice. In 1986, I was gone fourteen weeks from my practice and traveled almost 70,000 miles. While this was good for my frequent flyer rewards, it seriously impacted my practice.

After that year, I limited myself to four or five trips a year. Remember, this is not a paid position. All of these trips are completely voluntary. We might get a small per diem of $40 or $50 a day (if the budget allows), and all travel expenses are paid, but there is no salary. However, the thrill and experience of working and traveling with Elite Olympic Athletes over a ten-year period is incomparable.

TAC: What have you learned from your experience with athletes that would be useful for chiropractors dealing with their not-so-athletic patients?
What I want doctors to remember is, an injury is an injury. What I mean is, a sprained ankle suffered by an Olympic gymnast is no different from the sprained ankle of the sixty-year-old woman who trips over her dog.

When you work with World Class Elite Athletes, you are dealing with people who do not have time to be injured. They will ignore injuries until there is a significant impairment in their performance. Then, when they finally do admit to the injury, they want to be well RIGHT NOW! As the Team Doctor, you usually get one chance to prove yourself and get the athlete to trust you. That is a frightening and powerful responsibility. Because the techniques I use are gentle and work quickly, I was able to gain the trust and respect of not only the athletes, but the coaches, team managers and many of the official referees, as well.

How do I know this? Admittance onto the “regular” panel of doctors was not completely controlled by the top governing body representatives. The athletes and coaches had a very big say in whom they wanted to accompany their team as doctor. In the ten years from 1983 to 1993, all of the fifty-or-so trips I attended as Team Doctor were by direct request. Because I was invited on so many trips over a relatively short period of time, I was able to make friends with many coaches and athletes from around the world who, in turn, would introduce me to other athletes in need of help.

A good example of this was, in 1984, after the ’84 Olympic Games in Los Angeles. I was invited to the very first “Matsumai Judo Cup” held in Vienna, Austria, where I met a superb athlete from Yugoslavia named Radomer. He had a lower back injury, which caused him to stop competition due to very severe pain. When I met him, he said, “I hab ’da numbs.”

His right leg was completely numb from his back injury. He walked with a noticeable limp and could not bend or lift at all. After many months of treatment in Europe with minimal success, he went to live in Japan so he could get daily acupuncture treatment. This did help him to, literally, get back on his feet again, but he still had his pain and constant numbness. At 6’ 9” and 280 pounds, he was way too big for my table, so I adjusted him on the bleachers. After I balanced his psoas muscle, then adjusted his spine, he stood up and, for the first time in over five years, had no pain.

TAC: We’ve heard a lot about the Le Beau Technique. What is it and how is it different from other techniques?
Le Beau:
Because of numerous injuries and a military disability, I realized early in my education I would not be using the techniques I learned in chiropractic college. They were just too difficult and painful for me to perform. I went to many seminars looking for the “right” technique but could not find one that “fit” me.

Then I met Dr. Russ Erhardt, one of the truly great doctors of our profession. During one of the many seminars I took from him, he said, “If you can find a way to ‘open the articulation,’ you have already made your job 50% easier.”

Wow, what a tremendous concept. For me, it was like the cartoon where a light bulb appears over someone’s head. I got it! That concept became the basis of what I now call the Le Beau Technique. Believe me, when a 6’ 10”, 380-pound judo player drags himself into the treatment room and says, “Don’t hurt me,” you listen. So, with this application in mind, over the next few years, I developed a “head to toe” gentle technique with emphasis on the extremities.

TAC: Can you elaborate on the term open the articulation?
When I speak of “open the articulation” I’m talking about slightly expanding or distracting the joint surfaces in order to create an opening effect within the joint which, in turn, reduces the resistance to the adjustment.

A good example of this is, recently, a Formula 3 racecar driver came to me for help with a clavicle problem. He had injured his shoulder when he fell at home. The shoulder injury, itself, had resolved; but he still had a large “lump” at the end of his clavicle where it attaches to the sternum. His clavicle had subluxated anterior and slightly superior, creating pain, inflammation and loss of movement in his left shoulder. I have treated literally hundreds of these over the past twenty-three years, but I was never taught how to treat this condition. It had never occurred to me that this joint could subluxate.

Then, in 1987, while in Austria at the Women’s World Championships, I was working on a number of athletes when a young woman came to me and asked, “What can you do for this?”

She opened the top of her judo gi (competition uniform), and I saw that her left clavicle was completely out of position and sticking up into her throat. She said, “It only bothers me when I turn my head to the left.” Then she turned her head to the left and started gagging!

This wasn’t just a subluxation, this was a full on dislocation of her medial clavicle head. I not only had never treated something like this, I didn’t even know it existed. To reduce this dislocation, I had her lie on her back on my treatment table, then I extended her left arm out and off the table with the wrist toward the floor, which “opened” the sterno-clavicle articulation. At the same time, I pulled downward on the medial shaft of the clavicle and, to my complete surprise, the clavicle head “popped” into the joint space and she was immediately able to turn her head with no choking or gagging.

After that, I started looking for clavicle subluxations and found I had been missing these for years. I can guarantee your readers that, if they go back and look at some of their AP cervical spine X-rays of people who have been in car accidents, they will see one of the clavicles subluxated (usually on the side of the seat belt).

So, getting back to my racecar driver, I dropped his arm off the table, applied my adjustment along the long axis of the clavicle toward his shoulder and, because the joint was “open,” the clavicle slid into place and his pain, inflammation and loss of movement resolved.

TAC: What’s next for you? Where do you see yourself in five years?
Le Beau:
I know I will never totally give up practicing. I see myself, at ninety, shuffling around treating patients one or two days a week. But, for now, I want to concentrate on teaching seminars, nationally and internationally. I have been teaching for twenty-two years and have had more than 10,000 chiropractors as students throughout the US and in Europe, Asia, Australia and, now, Central America. At the present time, I’m working on sponsoring my own seminars for license renewal credits and working on a project that may take me to a more international market.

TAC: What questions are you asked most frequently during your seminars?
: During thirty-four years of practice, I have developed dozens of techniques and, most frequently, I am asked, “How did you come up with that?!”

I’ll give you one example. I was shot in the left lower leg in Vietnam in 1968. As you would expect, I have a very chronic problem with my leg and foot.

One evening, during a particularly severe episode of pain and burning in my foot brought on by nerve regeneration (“Wallerian Regeneration”), I started rubbing my foot. I was on the floor with the lateral surface of my foot against the carpet and my knee bent in full flexion. I rose up about six inches and pushed downward on my heel with one hand and my toes with the other. There was a very loud audible and my pain and burning stopped right away. I have been teaching that technique now for over twenty years. I call that one “the everything” technique because, when performed correctly, it moves just about every bone in the foot. I don’t know what made me think of doing that. It just seemed like a good idea at the time.

TAC: Do you have any secrets to your success in practice? In life?
: In practice, the line between “working hard” and “burning out” is really fuzzy. Just don’t work so hard early on that you forget what it is you are working for!

Practice Management groups tell us to set goals and then, when you reach that goal, celebrate, reward yourself and your family. Too often, I see chiropractors that become so focused on the goal they forget the reward. Next, they’re selling real estate or vitamins.

Have fun but, when you are attacked, don’t back down. Get angry and fight back! When I was first asked to work as the Pop Warner Team Doctor, in 1973, angry letters went out from every pediatric group in Vista, California, stating, “Any of you parents who allow your children to be treated by this chiropractor will no longer be accepted as patients in this office.”

Even though it has been almost thirty-four years since reading that letter, I remember it like it was yesterday. The Commissioner of the Pop Warner League called me, personally, and said he was being forced by his Board of Directors to rescind my offer.

Man, I was angry! I asked him to give me a few days; and he said the next meeting was scheduled for the following week.

I contacted an attorney I know and went to see him. You should have seen the smile on my friend’s face when I told him about this letter. He said, “George, let me take care of this.” I did.

Just before the next Board Meeting, I received another phone call from Al, the Commissioner, who told me, “We just got a copy of a letter that went out from all of the pediatric groups, apologizing to their patients about the previous letter, concerning the chiropractor, which had been sent in error.” They were very sorry for any inconvenience that letter may have caused and would, of course, welcome any of their children as patients at any time.

I called my attorney friend and asked what he had done. He stated, he simply advised those doctors about the laws regarding malpractice and patient abandonment. He had so much fun doing this he never even billed me!

TAC: Is there anything else you would like to tell our readers?
Le Beau:
Yes, there is. In my thirty-four years of practice, with personal and business travel to more than fifty countries, I have never encountered a more organized, professional and hospitable group as I did with The American Chiropractor magazine and the people of Panama this past February at “Chiropractic ’06”. I know this may sound corny or commercial, but if you are thinking of taking one really great International Seminar, I, personally, feel you could do no better than “Chiropractic ’07” in Panama. I am honored to have been a small part of that seminar this year and feel doubly honored to have been asked back again next year for “Chiropractic ’07”.

TAC: Since you brought it up and you are speaking at Chiropractic ’07, in February 2007, would you give us a sneak preview of what, our sources say, will be a particularly dynamic presentation?
For ’07, I plan to present a much wider range of new techniques I am in the process of developing that involve the use of patient resistance during the adjustment, as well as the always very popular “Thoracic Block” technique.

Dr. Le Beau practices at Chiropractic Industrial and Sports Center; 1365 West Vista Way, Suite 100; Vista, CA 92083. If you have questions or comments for Dr. Le Beau, he can be reached by email at [email protected].

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