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Technology continues to help enhance the health of athletes


This story is sponsored by Southern Utah University. Learn more about Southern Utah University.

The statement is inarguable: Performance of the best teams is directly connected to how healthy they are.

How to achieve that optimum level of health is a debate that's key to our time of playoffs, BCS bowls, rankings, win-loss records, and filling seats in arenas and stadiums — a billion-dollar enterprise.

Why is it that some athletes perform at a high level, make remarkable comebacks or seemingly prevent missed time on the field or court while some others get knocked out by freaky, unexplainable injuries? Why does Jazzman Carlos Boozer have an MRI after a non-contact injury in his rib area this week?

Why did BYU receiver McKay Jacobson tear a hamstring in pregame warmups last fall?

Why did Cougar linebacker Terrance Hooks blow out a knee just jumping straight up trying to intercept a pass two years ago?

Hardworking Ute RB Matt Asiata suffered an impact so dramatic it makes you flinch as he breaks his leg one season, but then why does he freakishly blow out an ACL while seemingly celebrating a touchdown another season?

Collisions that maim are understandable and unpredictable injuries that could lead to major surgery. But what of impairments that we label pulls, strains, ligament tears, back pain, joint discomfort, nagging pulls, ankle sprains and other maladies that keep athletes sidelined or lead to more serious injuries that then require surgeries? Are these preventable?

What if there were a technology that could forecast instability, strengthen the body's systems, and prevent missed practices and games by star players?

Are our medical practitioners using all available knowledge to treat patients/athletes?

Before the Winter Olympics in Vancouver, I debated the issue with several colleagues. They insisted I look into the work of Craig Buhler, a chiropractor in Kaysville who's worked with the NBA, NFL, PGA Tour, Stanford swim team and Olympians. He spent 23 years with the Utah Jazz, where John Stockton swears Buhler, not his toughness, kept him one of the most active players in league history.

"Yes," said Buhler, "injuries can be predicted and prevented. If you can determine positions of instability, imbalance or weakness in muscles, then you can predict where an injury can occur and prevent it."

I went on a Buhler watch as the Olympics approached. What I found is an interesting track record in keeping subjects performing at a high level with unconventional means. It is called Advanced Muscle Integration Technique.

Buhler and the Jazz parted ways after trainer Don Sparks retired. Sparks recommended Buhler treat Adrian Dantley's back pain back in 1979. At the ceremony to retire his Jazz jersey, Dantley credited Buhler for helping him perform at his peak.

Stockton and Karl Malone swore by Buhler's treatment during a segment of a quarter century. In that time, the Jazz registered the fewest player-missed games per year (51) due to injury compared with the league average (171).

Buhler's patients include 10 Olympians, many among the top U.S. swimmers, speedskaters, ski racers, snowboarders, basketball and football players. A fifth of his patients are elite athletes including Picabo Street, downhill skier Steven Nyman, aerial specialist Elli Ochowcz, speedskater Emily Cook and Australian snowboarder Torah Bright.

This past winter, Bright suffered a concussion and dislocated her jaw when she hit the edge of the halfpipe at the X-Games. This happened eight weeks before the Olympics in Vancouver. Two weeks after the mishap, Bright came to Buhler complaining of headaches and lack of balance. In one week, she passed neurological protocols and returned to training for Vancouver. Three weeks later, Bright sustained a second and third concussion and returned to Buhler unable to stand on one leg with eyes closed and keep her balance.

"Again, I implemented daily therapy on her up until the day of her event," said Buhler.

Bright won a gold medal in the women's halfpipe and used a trick no other woman had performed.

"I can't live without it," Bright said of her AMIT treatments, which she began in 2006. "After my initial course of treatments with many and varied corrections made over time, I felt and continue to feel more energetic, train with more capacity, and injuries that had bothered me have disappeared.

"My competition results have been better than ever. And my body feels better than ever. I am just one of many elite athletes that have been helped and maintained by Dr. Buhler and his program."

U.S. Olympian Shannon Bahrke rehabbed a cruciate ligament repair a year ago and consulted with Buhler last winter because she was in pain, the knee aggravated by training. Within months, she returned to competition, made the 2010 team and won the bronze medal in women's moguls. She gave Buhler permission to use her case and name.

A key cog in Buhler's treatment includes getting muscles to fire properly.

When they fire as nerve pathways intended them to do, the system efficiency increases and one aspect of the body isn't compensating or overloading another.

He calls it cutting-edge technology.

"We use a therapy base of chiropractic care and advanced muscle integration technique to assess, diagnose and treat athletic injuries," said Buhler.

"We do this by integrating the structural, chemical and electromagnetic systems in the body to accelerate healing and improve human performance."

This is unique in that it isolates 710 muscles in the body to determine which ones are creating positions of instability. The treatment seeks to reactivate inhibited muscles.

"We found years ago that when a muscle is overloaded beyond its ability to support the stress, it either tears or the proprioceptive system inhibits the muscle in an effort to protect it. This is much like a circuit breaker in an electrical system," he said.

Hocus-pocus, magic and "smoke and mirrors" are frequent labels often tossed around in arguments between established medicine and alternative health practitioners. Yet many athletes and teams have turned to acupuncturists, chiropractors and nutritionists and married it with other specialties, including podiatrists, physical therapists, internists, orthopedists and neurologists.

"It is not hocus-pocus," said Springville's Jeff Collinsworth, whose son Kyle played summer tournament basketball last summer with a broken back.

Kyle Collinsworth, a Provo High all-state guard, went to Buhler last August after a CAT scan confirmed the injury.

"After a few sessions, Kyle's pain subsided and he was able to play without issues. It was a matter of finding out what was not in balance and correcting it by getting the right muscles to fire and relieve the burden of the ligaments that were overloaded," said Collinsworth.

"It's like having three good tires and one bad tire on a car. If you don't fix the one bad tire, you can predict your car will break down," said the father.

A side benefit to his treatment was that Kyle Collinsworth increased his vertical leap by 6 inches. He was named Utah's Mr. Basketball by the Deseret News this past winter after leading Provo to the 4A state semifinals.

A standard medical practice for treating injuries is prescribing medicine: painkillers, anti-inflammatory drugs and cortisone injections, and when structures are broken, surgery. Day-to-day aches and pains are met with what is called "ice and stim," or cold packs and stimulation.

Aside from necessary surgeries to correct structure, Buhler and others make a case for prevention and looking beyond standard thinking — the ice and stim.

Former BYU team captain Cameron Jensen signed with the Seattle Seahawks, and in NFL spring camp after his senior season at BYU, he immediately suffered patellar tendinitis in his knee.

"It was so painful; I could hardly work out, and it stayed that way for a year," Jensen said. "I was referred to Buhler, and after three or four treatments, he fixed it. I didn't swell up and I could return to training without pain."

The issue here isn't if Buhler is a miracle man, but are we as a society missing out on successful methods in health care because of ignorance, jealousy and tradition?

Why is Famika Anae, the son of BYU offensive coordinator Robert Anae, having ACL surgeries nearly every time he plays football from Timpview High to BYU? Why does Boozer get hurt and miss games? The list goes on.

In a world where technologies routinely get outdated fast, the "wow" products are those that find integration, such as Apple's cutting-edge products like the iPod, which begat the iPhone, which begat today's iPad, a brand that dominates the marketplace.

In American health care, highlighted by these anecdotes and examples of other athletes, can we benefit by enhanced integration rather than isolationism in health care?

Why did the University of Virginia and Air Force recently discard old conditioning and weight-training programs and instill a different system to prepare athletes? Well, the old ways were not as good.

Isn't it time to explore how these disciplines can collaborate to overcome pain and woe, not to mention skyrocketing costs? What is the price of a sports team missing the presence of a superstar on the court? Rarely did we know in the case of Stockton and Malone, the bookend testament to Buhler's work.

The case of Craig Buhler opens up a lot of questions that need answers.

Is there a better way to be prepared to play?