Chiropractic + Naturopathic Doctor

The Addictive Madness of Motocross

By Dale Macdonald BA DC CSCS FCCSS(C)   

Features Clinical Patient Care

Health professionals go track-side at extreme sports events.

38I received my first dirt bike from my dad one summer day for getting straight A’s in grade two. He produced a tiny 50-cc bike from the trunk of his car, showed me how to use the throttle and brakes and sent me out into the yard. I didn’t stay in the yard, however, straightaway launching the bike into the freshly plowed field behind our farmhouse. That crash was a very early marker of what was to come with alarming and often hilarious frequency. I was hooked on dirt bikes.

Fast forward 23 years through many injuries, and I have now found a way to combine my profession and passion in a way that lets me be at the races with my sporting heroes without inherent risk of being hurt. Long retired after my own brief stint as a professional racer, I have been fortunate enough over the past several years to work with the best riders in the world at select rounds of the World Supercross Grand Prix Series, which is a 16-round series of races held throughout the United States, Canada and Europe. Each round regularly draws crowds of between 40,000 and 70,000 spectators to stadiums that have been temporarily converted for racing.


Motocross originated in Europe in the years following the Second World War as former soldiers organized hillside “scrambles” on their decommissioned military motorcycles.  Supercross is the name given to the indoor version of motocross. Both disciplines use the same bike, albeit with different suspension settings to help negotiate the varied terrain. Indoor Supercross tracks are much tighter, with many steep jumps and obstacles that are more visually stimulating than the expansive layouts and high speeds found with outdoor motocross.

Medical support for the World Supercross races has been formalized in recent years by the addition of several health professionals who are charged with attending each race. The model for this was derived from NASCAR, which recognized a clear need for consistency in care and so recruited doctors who were familiar with the unique injuries of the sport. Athletes generally feel much more comfortable if they know the doctor who is first assessing their injury. An emergency department physician, orthopedic surgeon and an athletic therapist make up the core team that travels with both the motocross and supercross series. My sport specialist chiropractic services are added for the Canadian rounds (Toronto and Vancouver) and select European rounds.

Chiropractic treatment of these individuals consists of both pre-race and post-crash care. It is encouraging that these highly paid racers seem to understand the importance of doing everything they can to optimize their performance from a chiropractic standpoint. A team of people works on the bike; it seems only reasonable that health-care professionals should work on the rider.

Having treated many national and international athletes involved in motocross, mountain biking, bobsled and skeleton, it is interesting to see the sport-specific differences surrounding treatment objectives. Sports such as bobsleigh and skeleton are won by microscopic margins, and large crashes are comparatively infrequent. As was demonstrated in a pilot study in 2006,(1) pre-event manipulation is capable of producing small gains in sprint velocity and jump height in elite athletes, which may lead to improved times in sprint-contingent sports. Conversely, supercross and motocross races, which take 20 to 35 minutes, are won by a margin of several seconds, and they often involve high-impact crashes. In these sports, there is opportunity for the chiropractor to make macro-measurable improvements in an athlete’s range of motion, pain level and, ultimately, performance.

Unfortunately, serious injury is all too common in both supercross and motocross. One teenage patient of mine has broken his wrists a combined total of eight times! A recent rash of spinal injuries has led to the development of a new brace by a South African neurosurgeon.  Similar to the HANS device used in Formula 1 and NASCAR, the neck brace has been gaining popularity with riders. Some are still reluctant to wear it due to a largely unfounded perception of severe limitation in active cervical range of motion. Our World Supercross medical team has been pushing for the mandatory integration of a similarly progressive device called the “Hats-Off” system, a small, inexpensive and imperceptible bladder that fits under the liner of any helmet. In the event of a suspected spinal injury, it can be pumped up to lift the helmet off a rider without the need to move or distract the cervical spine.

Chiropractors are uniquely positioned to discuss such prophylactic devices with their action/extreme sport patients. The old adage, “If you’ve got a two-dollar head, buy a two-dollar helmet,” seems to aptly summarize the role of protective equipment.  Recommending that your patients quit a potentially dangerous sporting activity has little effect since such athletes are bound by a deep passion for their chosen sport. Instead, take the time to ask them about the type of crashes that occur. Attend their events to gain insight into the most common mechanisms of injury. You’ll learn a lot and have a great time while there!•

1. Shrier I, Macdonald D, Uchacz G. A pilot study on the effects of pre-event manipulation on jump height and running velocity. Br. J. Sports Med 2006; 40:947-949. Originally published online 5 Sep 2006, doi:10.1136/bjsm.2006.029439.

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