Treating NFL Athletes with
Dr. Ben Johnson
Team Chiropractor for the Tennessee Titans
As a lifelong athlete, he has a passion for treating athletes and has experienced a variety of injuries that he commonly treats. He aims to make Nashville Chiropractic a trusted location for injury treatment and prevention in the Nashville area.
Click below to listen to the interview…
Dr. Jeff Langmaid: Welcome to Interviews by The SMART Chiropractor. This show is where Dr. Jason Deitch and myself, Jeff Langmaid, give you a front row seat to our conversations with the current influencers, future leaders in fantastic people involved in our profession. Hey, Smart Chiropractors. I’m Dr. Jeff Langmaid, here with my co-host, Dr. Jason Deitch, and today’s featured guest. We have a special featured guest and that’s Dr. Ben Johnson in Nashville Chiropractic. Ben, really appreciate you taking a few minutes chatting down about sports, chiropractic and what you’ve been up to.
Dr. Ben Johnson: Absolutely happy to be here.
Dr. Jeff Langmaid: I want to peel it back. How did how did you get involved in sports chiropractic to begin with? Was this something that you were really pushing and interested in in school, or is this something that developed over time as you got out there in the field? I’d love to know a little bit of the history and then we’ll get into today and what you’re going to be up to tomorrow as well.
Dr. Ben Johnson: Yeah, so I was definitely interested in sports chiropractic. I was an athlete growing up and I actually had a back injury and then saw a chiropractor that when I was at the University of Tennessee and he worked with me and I was like, “Oh, this is something that you can get into.” I didn’t really know that, and I’d never even really been to a chiropractor before. I knew nothing about it. And then I was looking at other options actually was thinking about being an optometrist at first. And then I realized one day that I was going to be in a dark room asking people what’s better one or two all day long? And I was like, I don’t know if that’s for me, but the sports thing is actually what got me interested in chiropractic as a profession. And, so, then I was trying to decide where I wanted to go. And I grew up a Cardinals fan. So I went to I went to St Louis and went to Logan, and they had a good sports chiropractic program. They were working with University of Missouri and with a lot of other teams and stuff like that. So, you really get your hands on athletes, get see kind of what that is like. And then also being able to go to Mizzou and be in the training room and all that kind of stuff. So, you really got the feel for that. So, I knew that that was something I would love to get into. Fast forward several years, and one of the first things we did when we opened our practice here in Nashville was I had started reaching out to some of the colleges in town, trying to see if they had a chiropractor they were working with and what that looked like and trying to figure out who to reach out to and…
Dr. Ben Johnson: Figure it out that it’s the head athletic trainer who’s going to typically make those decisions. But, initially, I started working with Belmont University with their track and cross country teams and kind of set that up through their head coach. So I was – instead of being in the training room and actually working with the training staff and all that – I was in the hallway outside of the training room as kind of a volunteer working with them. But through that, I developed a relationship with one of their trainers, who then became the head trainer. And, so, she started referring some other athletes, other sports to me. And that worked out great and kind of through just practice, everyday life, kind of got involved with the Nashville Sound, our triple-A team here, and worked with them a little bit. So, my goal was always – it would be my dream to work with an NFL team. That would be, you know, top tier kind of things, what I was hoping to do. And then one day I got a call from somebody with the Titans and we would get calls a lot. And it was always ticketing. And they were trying to get us to rent out a suite or have a Christmas party there or something like that.
Dr. Ben Johnson: And so I’m like – and I was frustrated. So, I was like, I had to answer the phone. I was like, “Hello?” And it was one of the trainers at the Titans. I was like, “Oh” – I think I skipped the next patient. Just like, sorry, we probably have to reschedule them. So, I talk to him for a while, and he told me that they were looking for somebody new and that they had reached out to other trainers, athletic trainers in the area, and they reached out to Belmont and the Nashville Sounds and they had recommended me. And so it’s kind of more of like a, you know, there are some situations where you kind of get grandfathered into that. If you work for somebody that happened to be a team chiropractor or you just happen to know the right person at the right time or – I like to think that it was just kind of grinded for a little bit and I was volunteering my time trying to get, I guess, trying to get my name out there so that people would would think of me as the sports chiropractor. So, yeah, so worked it out from there, interview with them, and talk to them and went in and it, it happened! It was great! Took a while because it was the, the draft was right around then and, so, they’re always busy right then. So, I was like – I didn’t hear anything for like a month, and I was a little worried. Then after that happened, I got a call. That’s good!
Dr. Jason Deitch: Ben, I love your story – both of us. And I love your story. That’s obviously why we’re here. I know you got the logo going on right here. Listen, this is very much about paying your dues. You know, it’s one thing when, you know, a friend or family member happens to know somebody who’s the decision maker, who is or the star athlete themselves. But your story, I think, is such an inspiring one because it’s how it happens for many of the Docs that are out there. Tell us your experience. I mean, it was your dream at that time. Do you love doing it now? Is it is it everything you wanted it to be? Maybe give us give us some experience that you’ve had. And I also know you’re not the only chiropractor for the only NFL team. So what’s your experience working with other chiropractors? I know you’re part of a national group of chiros that do this. Tell us more about what you’re up to with the Titans and just what it looks like for chiropractors and the NFL and other sports teams that you may know of as well.
Dr. Ben Johnson: My my situation with the Titans, and how I think it works for most at least NFL chiropractors, is that I go in a couple of times, a couple of days during the week for usually a couple of hours. And I’ll work on people that whether it’s some of the players that just want to kind of get loosened up or the head trainer will bring somebody over that’s injured and wants me to either assess them or treat them or work on them like that. There are there are a few different ways that it kind of works in the NFL. There are some people that are doing just adjusting and they’re just filling that gap kind of. Other people are doing a lot of soft tissue work and doing mostly ART, and myofascial release kind of stuff, and some people are doing a blend. I mostly just adjust. Sometimes if somebody needs something, I’ll do some soft tissue work. But it’s definitely something that’s different than everyday practice because there are so many providers under one roof. And so it’s – you’re working for a team and you’re working with a team. And so, you know, we’ve got athletic trainers that can do soft tissue stuff. We’ve got massage therapists that do it also. And then there’s, you know, we’ve got a that’s also one of the trainers and he’s great and he’s doing a lot of the rehab and getting people developing rehab plans and doing all that stuff.
Dr. Ben Johnson: So, a lot of the things that I would do in my practice, I’m not actually doing with the team because there’s other bodies there to do it. And that’s been talking to other team chiropractors. That seems to be kind of how it is a lot of times is that you’re kind of the hierarchy would be like the head athletic trainer is like primary care and then you’ve got a bunch of specialists that he’s going to kind of refer to when needed and they’re going to fill their individual role. And the biggest thing is being okay doing that. There are some people that get into that situation and they think that they should be the head guy, that they want to be the decision maker. They want to be the – all that kind of stuff. But losing the ego and filling in where you need to and doing what you’re asked to do. There are definitely times where I see somebody – I’m like, yeah, I could maybe help them a little bit more, but, I’m going to go through the the medical director who is the the head trainer and, you know, talk to him and let him make any decisions that he wants to make as far as that goes. And the other thing with it is that it’s a business. Every player is their own business. And so there might be times where they’re not always wanting to share what’s going on with them.
Dr. Ben Johnson: There’s other things. So there’s always a balance of that. Because if a player gets hurt and they’re, let’s say, they’re like a practice squad player or something, they get hurt and they might get cut right then or something. And so you’ve got to be everything’s going to funnel through that medical director or the head trainer, and then he’s going to be the one. So if I assess something, I’m going to tell him my findings. And he’s going to be the one that talks to the player, talks to the coach and the general manager and that kind of stuff. So, you want to funnel everything up to that and not everybody is happy doing that, but that’s part of the job. And, yeah, there’s some great chiropractors that work with the other teams. I’ve gotten to meet a lot of them. Probably most of them from the games travel and we tend to meet up either before or after the game. A lot of times we’ll just go like right on the 30 yard line after the game and say, hey, grab a picture or talk for a minute. And it’s interesting to see kind of how people are. Teams are set up a little bit differently. Like, I’m the only chiropractor for the Titans, but there are other teams that have multiple. They’ll have two, sometimes three even at times where there might be somebody just doing soft tissue and then somebody’s just adjusting and they’ll have it separate like that because their hands are full and they don’t have enough time.
Dr. Ben Johnson: So, yeah. So, like, I say, my typical week – I go in for a couple of hours, a couple of days a week, and then we’ll get to the game early, and we’ll do treatment at the hotel if it’s a travel game. But before the game in the locker room is the busiest time. That’s when I’m sweating. There’s a lot of guys. There might be games where there’s – one day there wasn’t a trash can nearby. So every time I’ve ripped the face paper, ball it up and just throw it on the ground. And at the end of it, I counted them all up. And that game I’ve worked on 40% of the team, which was it was a lot. But, yeah, like you’re saying about the national group of other chiropractors, the Professional Football Chiropractic Society is a great group of people. We’ve got the combine coming up where all the teams will will be there looking at up and coming talent and assessing that the trainers have to conference. Then all the other medical providers will have kind of meetings and stuff then. And so as chiropractors we put on a conference there, continuing education kind of thing, and it’s really good we get to do it in person this year as long as things keep going the way they’re going.
Dr. Jeff Langmaid: I think I think that’s awesome. And one thing that you bring up and that I would love to dive into a little bit more is – I’ve been excited. You know, I wouldn’t consider myself to be the pinnacle sports chiropractor by any stretch of the imagination. However, I’ve been just excited to see how much evolution there’s been in that field and probably how much there is still left to go. And it’s always just mind boggling to me. There’s so many people out there struggling that aren’t professional athletes that are skeptical of chiropractic. Yet every professional athlete in sports, you know, sports organizations has a chiropractor on the team. And the second level of that, that’s fascinating. I’d love to ask you about, and you sort of mentioned it, is that many of them are using chiropractors. What I’m going to loosely refer to as sports performance more than necessarily rehab. What – is that true? Do you find that most of the athletes – I know everybody’s banged up after like the first week of the year, so everybody’s dealing with some amount of issues – but do you find that most of them are visiting you for essentially performance and rehab? What’s the splits? What have you found? It’s interesting. I’d love just insight from inside the locker room as far as how are professional athletes thinking of and utilizing chiropractic at that level.
p style=”color: #687398; font-weight:400;”>Dr. Ben Johnson: Yeah. So, I think one way to to kind of word it is – so, every every time I’m in the training room with the Titans, I have a note on my phone and I just have the date and what player I saw and then what was going on with them. And I would say the majority of them – alright, general adjustment, just checking them out, giving them a once over there. I mean, if you think about it, what they’re doing is athletes, muscles move bones. And so if joints aren’t moving properly, you’re not having good mobility with things. And it could be from practice. Like they get jammed up, they got hit hard, they fell – something like that. Or, honestly, a lot of times it’s the plane. You got massive people sitting in tiny airplane seats. And, so, people, like, at the hotel the night we get there – sometimes people will come up and they’re like, now all of a sudden they have an issue. But most of the time it’s kind of just like I wouldn’t even necessarily call it maintenance, but just like performance based – like just trying to get loosened up, trying to get everything – making sure it’s moving. Well, I saw a guy yesterday, he came over and I was checking him out and he just wanted to make sure his low back was moving well. And so I checked him out. I was like, “You’re fine. You don’t need anything. Everything’s good.” So there’s a lot of that sometimes. And then you have people that do have an injury or that have just aches and pains, that kind of thing. They think about it when they’re watching film and they’re having meetings, which is a big part of the day. That’s a desk job. Yeah. And then they’re going out and they’re thankfully doing a variety of things with practice and stuff. But, you know, practice is a small portion of the day versus the rest of the day and meetings and all that stuff. So, yeah, there’s definitely a performance aspect of that for sure.
Dr. Jason Deitch: That is absolutely awesome. I could talk to you for hours. I want to learn more about what’s it like on the plane and you know, all of the stories I’m sure you can’t tell us at all. But what would what advice would you give other chiropractors who are interested in this concept? Some would argue, wow, well, how do you run a practice if you’re on the on traveling with the team on a regular basis and so on? I saw your wife practices with you and so on. Is it – does it only work when you’ve got family together and so on? Or what would you recommend to others who are curious and interested in maybe even considering doing something like this? Not for the Titans, of course, but for any other, yeah?
Dr. Ben Johnson: Yeah. It’s, I mean, it’s definitely possible to run a practice with it. I mean, like I said, I’m going for a couple of hours 2 to 3 times a week and then working on the weekends. So you can’t really be open on the weekends if you’re doing this. But, thankfully, most of the time I go it’s kind of around my lunch break, so we can can make it work that way. We, like I said, my wife is a chiropractor and we opened our office together and January 2021, we hired an associate who’s been great. So, he kind of can see patients when I’m out, you know. You have the Thursday games, Monday games – that’s where you’re going to miss a whole day. And that that can be a little difficult if you are just starting out – one man show kind of thing. That’s – you kind of need those days sometimes. But it is nice to have the help because sometimes there might be a time where like this week the schedule was just – I just got the schedule for practice and stuff this week. And so I had no way of – I had people scheduled that we were constantly having to have to call people and reschedule them, but they understand and they get it for the most part, or they’ll hop in with more of the other providers.
Dr. Ben Johnson: Yeah, I think the biggest advice is just get in where you can be patient and kind of work the ground up. Like you said, you’ve got to pay your dues. And, so, part of that is, is starting volunteering your time, being available – not being pushy. You’re not. I think if people see that you’re generally wanting to help and wanting to offer your time versus you’re trying to to advertise and you’re constantly selling that, that’s where you can make relationships. So, relationships is what the way to move up and to get in. If you wanted to get into professional sports and start seeing being a chiropractor for professional athletes and stuff, you definitely need the clinical side of that and you need the experience with working with athletes. But, more important, you need to be a team player and you need to build relationships. You need those people have to get along with you, traveling with you and stuff. So, that’s a really important part of that. So be humble, be patient. Thankfully, it’s one of the things I – it was kind of a dream to work with with an NFL team, but. I never really thought it would happen, and especially not as early as it did in my practice, like in my career, but it did and thankfully it worked out and it’s been great.
Dr. Jeff Langmaid: And I think that’s absolutely fantastic. You bring up a couple of points that I think are very important for Smart Chiropractors out there that listen to Jason and always talk about results follow actions. You’ve clearly taken the action steps to get the result, and I think that’s a powerful message mixed with patients, which I think is fantastic and a relationship first approach. Keep up the great work. I’m going to encourage every Doc out there – check out what Ben is up to. You can visit his website, you can follow him on social, and, if you are interested, also reach out to the professional network. That’s really a great opportunity, I think, to understand more of what Ben and the rest of the NFL chiros are doing day in and day out. And Ben, you’ve been super generous with your time today. We appreciate you coming on and have a great day!
Dr. Ben Johnson: Absolutely. Titan up!
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