NFL Chiropractic with PFCS President Dr. Alan Sokoloff
President of the Professional Football Chiropractic Society
“Dr. Sok”, as his patients refer to him, is the founder of the Yalich Clinic Performance and Rehabilitation in Glen Burnie, MD, where he has practiced for over 31 years. He has served 2 terms as President of the Maryland Chiropractic Association and was selected as Maryland’s “Chiropractor of the Year 2001-02” and the American Chiropractic Board of Sports Physician’s Sports Chiropractor of the Year 2006.
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Dr. Jeff Langmaid: Hey Docs – Dr. Jeff Langmaid here with my co-host, Dr. Jason Deitch, and today we have a special featured guest on the show. We have Dr. Alan Sokoloff, a practicing Chiropractor president of the Professional Football Chiropractic Society and educator around the world. Alan, thanks for taking some time in chatting with us.
Dr. Alan Sokoloff: Thank you for allowing me to chat with you guys. I’ve been looking forward to it.
Dr. Jeff Langmaid: Our pleasure. So I always like to trace back first question a little bit of origin story. You’re obviously deeply vested in sports Chiropractic. What started the passion? How did things begin for you?
Dr. Alan Sokoloff: I think I’ve always had a passion for it because I saw it as a way for me to get patients back in the day. Plus, I played sports in high school, played a little in college and, you know, taking care of each other at the I went to a Palmer College and taking care of each other, playing rugby. I saw a lot of benefit to it. When I got out of school, I started working with the college that I went to school at at University of Maryland, Baltimore County, and then from there, everything started to blossom because that was my passion. That was my reason for coming to work every day, and that was my variety, so I wouldn’t have to do the same thing every day.
Dr. Jason Deitch: That is awesome, you. You are now the president of if I got it right, the Professional Football as in the NFL, right Professional Football Chiropractic Society. What do people need to know about it? It seems to me like the best kept secret in our profession. You guys are working with the highest profile athletes, at least in America, if not the world.
Dr. Alan Sokoloff: Yeah. How did that all come about? So it’s it’s interesting that you use those words best kept secret about 15 years ago. I’ve been with the Baltimore Ravens for twenty two years, and I had the opportunity to work with some of the elite athletes that you’ve spoken about. And I’m figuring, you know, there’s got to be other people like me. So through a series of reaching out and networking, I found out that there were others like me and I’m going to date myself here. There used to be something called the National Aerobic Championships, the Reebok National Crystal Light back in the day, and some of those same people that I developed a support network for to treat these athletes around the country were involved in football also. We decided to get together back in 2000 formally and kind of introduce ourselves to each other. What are you doing? What’s happening? Well, fast forward. We formed the organization, or a nonprofit organization, and we have three main goals. So three main mission statements. Number one, kind of selfishly help each other better understand what we do, who we’re doing it with, help new guys with the ins and outs. Number two, and these are not in any importance order, but number two is to be able to take the information that we gain at the level that we’re gaining it and pass it on to other chiropractors. That’s why we have the Professional Football Chiropractic Society Sports Symposium because there we have the opportunity to do that and so much more. But then number three is equally as important is to help educate the public of what we’re learning at that level and whether we do it directly to the public in the areas where we’re from or we do it through the different chiropractors and students that attend our conference, we’re able to accomplish our cut of our three pronged mission statement. So that’s kind of the purpose. And oh, by the way, it’s a lot of fun too.
Dr. Jeff Langmaid: I think that’s that’s awesome. I’d love to go! That biggest difference is, I think back, this seems so organic and it’s growth. And I know every team is – it’s sort of its own business. And what’s the biggest difference you’ve seen from when you started twenty two years ago with with, you know, in the NFL to today, because it seems like there’s a lot more infrastructure, there’s a lot more docs and a lot more opportunity. But when you look at it and you look back from from the inside, what was maybe the biggest change or two that you’ve noticed, and I’m talking specifically relative to Chiropractic roles within these organizations.
Dr. Alan Sokoloff: So – and that’s a great question, too. I think the biggest thing is utilization. We are utilized now more than ever. There’s a document that the physician society in the NFL came out with as to who should be on an NFL sideline and chiropractor is listed there. We went through a time during COVID where they limited the number, you know, when there were no fans. In the stands, they limited the number of people on the sidelines, but we were still there. Why? Because not only for the job that we would do, but to have the ability to help out and work in other areas that may not be your job normally. Sports chiropractors have the ability to be chameleons and fit in wherever we have to and do whatever we have to, leaving our ego at the door.
Dr. Jason Deitch: Alan, I’d love to whatever degree you’re able to to sort of share what it’s like to be an NFL chiropractor for a team, whether it’s your experience or the collective experience of the other docs. Number one: is it true that every NFL team does have a Chiropractor on staff? Is that an accurate statement?
Dr. Alan Sokoloff: So your number one, accurate statement is true, but they’re all working in different capacities. Some are held on retainer, some are consultants, some are referred to outside of the organization. Some cover game day. Some, like myself, do all of it. It’s myself and two other chiropractors actually working with the Baltimore Ravens, and we all know what our lanes are. We all know what our jobs are. We provide regular chiropractic care at the facility during the season, at least three days a week. Plus, we have game day or game weekends. We cover home and away, but that’s not the same everywhere else. Same with the preseason and the off season. To a certain degree, we’re providing some sort of regular care.
Dr. Jeff Langmaid: Is this a position that – do you travel with the team separately? Are you getting there super early in providing care, pre-game, in-game post-game? I guess, I know there’s probably no such thing as a typical day, but there’s so many young docs out there I know that are passionate and interested, and I just I’d love to know from the inside what you’ve seen, right?
Dr. Alan Sokoloff: So the Reader’s Digest version of all that is if it’s a home game where they are it’s four hours before at least I get there early enough to warm my body up. I do a majority of my treatment before. There are some things that may be done on the sideline, some things done at halftime and then after the game – depending on whether you win or lose, determines how much work you have. Because if you lose, everything hurts. When you win, you feel a little better, so maybe not. But for the away games I travel with our team and whenever they’re leaving, I’m leaving. If we go to the West Coast, we normally leave on a Friday for a Sunday game. Otherwise, we leave the day before we provide treatments, the night before we provide treatments, the day and that morning, and then provide treatment at the stadium in the same fashion that we just spoke about. One of the incredible things is when a game is done, the within one hour after a game, all those treatments are done. Athletic trainers are phenomenal and are the bomb at this level because they’ve got everyone treated packed up and we’re heading to the airport within an hour after a game. So it is the true definition of organized chaos, but done so well with every different part of the organization. I’m very fortunate to do what I do.
Dr. Jason Deitch: I would say so too. You know, I’ve got tons of questions. I know everybody else is trying to, you know, ask and understand as well. I’ll try to keep them as relevant as I can. Do you see, I mean, I don’t see many adjusting tables on the sidelines. Is that not allowed or is that frowned upon or what do you do on the sidelines during a game? I guess, beyond sort of advice and checking to see if people need to, I guess, go back to the treatment room or how does it work?
Dr. Alan Sokoloff: It’s almost like a mini HMO back in the day where everything is basically done through the head athletic trainer and through the team physician. And then they help determine, OK, you need to see the chiropractor, you need to see the physical therapist, you need to see the orthopedist, you need to see the strength and conditioning guys. And we do all that on a sideline in real time, and you don’t need a referral or anything like that. Everything happens quickly as to where the treatment’s done could really depend. It can be done on a bench. But now we have fancy blue tents where things can be done there, depending on how much needs to be done and how complex. You can go back to the locker room and do it as well. And a lot of it depends on timing. You know who’s on the field, how quickly do you need to get that athlete back out.
Dr. Jeff Langmaid: One of the things that I found fascinating kind of just watching – I wouldn’t consider myself to be a top tier sports chiropractor. But you know, watching the Docs that that are is, you know, I always think of the intersection between sports performance and it’s sort of the irony, and I’m interested in your experience with this. I always look at – there are so many people out there in the public that are afraid to get adjusted for, you know, back pain. Yet many professional athletes are utilizing chiropractic almost exclusively for performance, you know, related issues, you know, and the benefits in many cases. Have you seen – has that been an evolution that you’ve witnessed internally? Am I correct with that? Is it mostly about performance and less about pain? Is it a hybrid of all of the above? What have you seen?
Dr. Alan Sokoloff: I’m going to go with D. A hybrid of all the above with a heavy, heavy emphasis on performance enhancement. You look at pregame, if I’m treating twenty, thirty, thirty five guys before a game – all of them aren’t hurting. They’re looking to optimize their performance to move and function better. You know, myself, as well as the the other athletic trainers and physicians, are doing the same thing before a game starts. We’re not taking care of pain. It’s performance enhancement and function, which is ideally what we do in our profession. So it is a natural fit. And again, that goes back to why I think sports chiropractic is so important. How else do you tell the lay person, “Hey, you should be getting adjusted for X, Y and Z before you perform”? “What?” Whether it’s a weekend warrior playing tennis or a softball league, you can perform and function better just like the professionals do. And, you know, here in my office, it’s the same. The hands touching those people are touching the pro athletes and it’s the same philosophy. I’m going to do whatever I can to get you back on your field. Your field may be around the corner, your field may be in the stadium, but that’s how I think we as a profession can continue to evolve and grow through sports.
Dr. Jason Deitch: It’s exactly what I’d like to go next, Alan, which is what what is currently, I guess, being done. What would you like to see happen as far as exactly that –maybe profession wise? I mean, obviously, I’m sure this has been extremely beneficial for your personal practice, but I think if most people knew that, you know, many of the people on the field are getting adjusted for performance related issues, not just because it hurts or because they’ve got a, you know, a symptom they’re responding to – how can you, how can the NFL, how can the profession be promoting what’s going on more? Because it does – it seems to me like this is the best kept secret in the entire profession. I mean, we’re all wondering why it’s not – chiropractic isn’t more mainstream. And here you are taking care of some of the most popular people in the world. What do you see the opportunity being to sort of bring this message to the masses?
Dr. Alan Sokoloff: So, I think doing things like we’re doing right now, though, you know what we’re doing may be geared towards chiropractors and not the public. Hopefully, it educates those chiropractors to be able to get out in front of the public. Look, my passion is doing just what I’m telling you. I have a couple of speaking gigs, you know, in different states and including the Professional Football Chiropractic Society Conference coming up the first week in March, which, oh by the way, is almost sold out – best kept secret. We have to keep figuring out how. How can we keep growing but growing quality? Let me give you an example. There’s a team in the NFL. They went through five chiropractors in 40 years. Does that mean chiropractic doesn’t work? Or maybe they’re just not getting the right people? And and I think, you know, from a practice standpoint, colleges do a great job of teaching us to be the king of our office, to make decisions to to take responsibility. I don’t think they’re the best at teaching us to play in the sandbox together where you can work together as a team, leave your ego at the door, which is why a lot of chiropractors still – which is why I love to get out and teach that stuff. You guys have access to some of the best academic ins and and adjusters in the world. I’m on the other side of that. I’m on the social side of what can we as a profession continue to do at a collegiate, professional, olympic, high school, rec, peewee level to educate parents, athletes and kids? Well, I know I’m doing a speaking gig in in Michigan for their conference in Traverse City, coming up and I literally sat down –
Dr. Alan Sokoloff: I put a slide together today, a slide – you could tell that I’m old. I’m still free to make making slides, so. And it’s a picture of a kid that I treated as a kid who went to the University of Maryland and who I treated there who I ended up treating because he became a member of the Baltimore Ravens. You know, we’re at the most visible part of our profession. You know, working in the NFL, but it’s every single Chiropractor that touches a kid at that young age that educates the parent that makes them demand it when they get to the next level, which is why almost every college now has a team chiropractor. So he has to be. What would I like to see? Every stinking college should have a team chiropractor and most of them do, but. and it goes so far behind the rack – it’s got to start in rec leagues and then everything just flows up and then we get to see it on the big screen. And then that’s what we get to refer back to the younger ones to say, “Hey, look, what’s happening up here? Let’s keep this thing going!”
Dr. Jeff Langmaid: That is powerful. And you might answer my question with saying the story that you just sort of, you know, elaborated on. But what’s been a favorite moment throughout your time of being a sports chiropractor? Watching somebody grow up in playing the NFL must be up there. But what’s maybe a highlight or two that comes to mind if we ask you?
Dr. Alan Sokoloff: But you know, we we do. We put our hands on a lot of people. And I have one of my favorite stories that I tell. We went to the Super Bowl in New Orleans, where we played the San Francisco 49ers back in 2012, and we had a like – all these stories are rushing in my head. So, this should be like a two hour show and we’ll get it on Netflix and – well, anyway. So, it was guy that I was one of our more predominant players that I was treating throughout the week. And everything’s going great, going great. And then the morning of the Super Bowl was on Sunday – they had taken my table from the training room and brought it to the stadium, and that same guy came in and he’s like, “You know, Doc, you’ve been working with me and I got this thing up here and it’s kind of bothering me.” I’m like, “Well, you know, this is one of those chameleon things.” “You don’t have an adjusting table. Where are you going to adjust?” So I put a sheet down on the ground and he had an anterior thoracic that, you know, “Oh my gosh, this is where this is, why it’s bothering you.” But laying him on the ground and having the entire training staff standing around and the doctors and coaches and whoever was in there were standing around staring. And I laid him down to adjust – and boom! And, in his fashion, in his voice, unlike mine, he said, “Oh my God!” So I’m like – me – my heart’s going like this and everybody else is like, it’s like one of those things.
Dr. Alan Sokoloff: And he goes, “That pain is gone! It’s gone.” So I was like, “Of course it is! Just good luck tonight. I’ll see ya later before the game.” So fast forward we go to the game – that was the game that the lights went out in the stadium. I tripped over the extension cord. So then we win the game. Now we’re at a post-game party. This is like 4:00 in the morning, whatever. And I saw this athlete across the room and we like, approached each other like it was on a beach in slow motion with Bo Derek. And we’re, you know, in this embracing hug. And he said, “Thank you. Thank you for that adjustment earlier, that was one thing I didn’t have to think about playing in the pain.” And I’m like, he remembered that adjustment from – you just played in a Super Bowl! And that’s that’s the power of what we do that a lot of people don’t understand, even at the highest level, that if he remembered that from hours ago – a day ago – and it meant that much to him, it makes me rethink about every adjustment. Every time I touch somebody, I can make a difference and what that person does today. And it’s it’s kind of a warm feeling – and you’re right, I got more stories like that. So part two, we’ll take care of that.
Dr. Jason Deitch: I look forward to part two. Before we wrap up, just because we want to be respectful of your time. You did mention you’ve got an event coming up. It happens to be at the NFL Combine, which itself has to be very cool to “watch, learn, see” experience. You know, spent some time really laying out what type of chiropractor should be coming to your event. What would you – what’s your vision for the kind of organization? Where do you see it going? Where would you like it to go, and who would you like to be there learning from you in order to be able to continue to grow with you?
Dr. Alan Sokoloff: Right? This will be part three, but now we’ll help you guys wrap this up. So, it is held every single year. The pandemic has kind of put a little damper on it. Last year was virtual. The year before 2020. It was right when everything was starting. We got that event and sold out, and for years building up – we got busier, busier, busier, sold out and then, oh my gosh, the pandemic. Now we’re going to have to build back up. But now we’re built back up. So, the event we send out invites to not only chiropractors but to students. And every year we have to limit the number of students because every student wants to get involved. That’s what I’m talking about by starting at a grassroots level and be able to educate on up. So there are chiropractors and students there. We have great vendors, great support through sponsorship, but we have different speakers that are both in the NFL and outside the NFL talking about what’s being done at all these different levels. It’s not the usual seminar where you hear the same kind of speakers go on.
Dr. Alan Sokoloff: No, it’s a very different. And we sometimes, you know, because we are held at the same time as the NFL combine, we are able to pull people and different coaches and athletes to come speak. And when you’re out walking on the streets, you never know who you’re going to run into. But it’s just a great opportunity. Who should go? Anyone that wants to be involved in sports – football or not. And it’s one of those conferences that when you go, you’re not just paying attention to what the speaker is saying. You, you are – you can’t wait till a break time, so you can. Everybody talks. “Oh my gosh, that guy was so nice. He would told me that and he gave me advice and I didn’t know I should be documenting it!” So, it’s just a fun learn fest and and and great camaraderie, and it’s great for all of us, selfishly, Thursday – we get it on Thursday we get to hang out with each other. We have our annual meeting and then the conference is Friday, Saturday. So the whole weekend is just very enjoyable.
Dr. Jeff Langmaid: It sounds absolutely awesome. We’re going to encourage everybody listening and watching. Be sure to check it out this year and the following years. I’m sure it will continue to evolve. And Alan, everybody heard it. You’ve already committed to a part two, so you can’t get out of it now. We’ll come back around to you later on this year, for sure. We really appreciate you taking the time, and I’m just going to say on behalf of Jason and myself and our entire team, thank you so much for spearheading what has helped so many docs help that many more people. You’re awesome and thank you for taking the time1
Dr. Alan Sokoloff: Thank you! Thanks.