by Dr. Masahiro Takakura, ND, DC, LAc
As a Naturopathic physician, I do not really differentiate myself from allopathic physicians. First, I think of myself as a physician and then as a Naturopath. When I treat athletes, I do not focus on my profession, rather, I care more about how I should treat each athlete to create the best result, so they can perform optimally.
There is an ongoing debate that revolves around the difference between Naturopathic treatment and Allopathic treatment. There are questions if Naturopathic medicine is effective in sports medicine or what treatment is the best for the athletes. I believe there is great benefit for athletes to be able to bridge all forms of medicine to encompass the best treatment options.
Naturopaths can prescribe anti-inflammatories and muscle relaxants. A short-term effect from anti-inflammatories can be significant; however, some athletes may take anti-inflammatory medications for several years and increase the risk of cardiovascular thrombotic events, myocardial infarction, and stroke. Naturopaths can also perform steroid injections in some states. A short-term effect from steroid injections can be significant; however, repeated injections into same area can cause weakening of the bone, ligaments and tendons.
Some would argue that prescribing anti-inflammatory medications and performing injections are not Naturopathic treatments. To me, “Naturopathic treatments” are “Treatments according to Naturopathic principles and/or therapeutic order”. In some cases, you need to treat the athlete’s symptoms in order to allow them to get back in the game, but it is also important to ultimately find the root of the problem and treat this cause. For example, we may need to prescribe anti-inflammatory drugs for repetitive tendinitis so the athlete can play the next week; however, we also need to instruct the athlete to change their biomechanics without affecting his/her performance. I consider this method to be treating according to naturopathic principles.
In some cases, there are physicians, allopathic or Naturopathic alike, who prescribe medications without even putting their hands on the patient. Similarly, prescribing anti-inflammatory drugs or performing steroid injections, especially without guided ultrasound, to an athlete’s inflamed AC joint without palpation, orthopedic tests or diagnostic imaging, may be effective, but it is not a treatment according to the Naturopathic principles and/or therapeutic order.
In some cases, as a physician, we need to perform additional exams and/or order diagnostic imaging to find the cause and treat the cause of the injury. As a Naturopath, we need to educate the athlete about general lifestyle, such as nutritional benefits, prevention of injuries, and correction of biomechanics. Our goal is to use methods with the least side effects and to stimulate the body’s natural healing process as much as possible.
The difficulties of treating athletes are often not simple. There are multiple layers and complications involving athletes, coaches, family members, and team members.
An integrative medical team approach is best for the athlete, and if athletes do not have a medical team and only a single practitioner, I would hope that the practitioner would consult with other professionals who have experience in supporting and treating athletes. I do not say Naturopathic medicine is always the best. I do not believe one treatment option or methodology is better than another. I do believe treating patients through the Naturopathic principles and therapeutic order does provide a good foundation for patient-centered medicine.
Dr. Masahiro Takakura is the first Naturopath and also the first Chiropractor that has traveled and treated MLB players for a full season including Spring Training. He is currently the Naturopathic and Chiropractic consultant for Seattle Mariners. He is also a part of a group that defines and establishes naturopaths who treat sports medicine conditions. He teaches the musculoskeletal module and advanced physical medicine courses at Bastyr University and sees patients at his private practices. He works with a team of physicians, Dr. Calvin Kwan and Dr. Darci Davis, who are also team doctors/practitioners for the Seattle Women’s Rugby team.