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Local sports doctor working Olympics

To many Americans, Jim Kurtz is a lucky guy.

Not only is he at the Olympics, he is talking to the athletes up close and personal. He even sat next to Michelle Kwan while she had lunch at the sports complex cafeteria recently.

Kurtz, a Brown’s Point resident, is one of a team of sports chiropractors selected by the United States Sports Chiropractic Federation, in Salt Lake City to attend to international athletes at the games.

“The U.S. athletes have their own team doctors,” Kurtz said. “We’ve been treating competitors from smaller countries — Argentina, Brazil and Jamaica.” Kurtz added he just treated an Argentinean bobsledder who had lost control of his sled and hit a wall.

“These guys are going head-first down this chute at unbelievable speeds,” he said. “He got pretty banged up.”

In order to qualify to work the event, sports chiropractors must have completed 300 hours of special training and have some experience working large sports events, Kurtz said.

“You have to be familiar with acute injuries — dislocated shoulders, muscle tears, head injuries — some of the things you might not see in a clinical practice,” he said. In this arena, the sports chiropractor also has to be able to assess whether the athlete is well enough to return to competition. “The athletes always want to get back to the event,” he said. “You must have the medical knowledge, and the authority, to go to the coach and pull them out.”

The distinction between regular chiropractic and its sports appellation, Kurtz said, involves the concentration on musculature and its interplay with the traditional focus of regular chiropractic, the alignment of the spine.

“We look at the muscles involved, and why your spine is out of alignment,” he said. “We’re more interested in having people do exercises and stretches to help themselves. A lot of people think we’re a combination of physical therapy and chiropractic combined.”

At their treatment offices near the Olympic Village, Kurtz and his associates have treated Olympic athletes with muscle pulls, joint alignment problems, knee, ankle, neck and shoulder injuries. They perform a variety of treatments, including ultrasound, sports massage, bracing and taping, as well as guided stretches, and a host of recommended exercises.

Whatever the image of chiropractic has been, Kurtz said, sports chiropractic has much to offer the athlete, no matter how committed or casual.

The athletes he is tending to at the Olympics have been competing with injuries for years, he said. “They come from these smaller countries without the funding for a team physician or sports medicine support staff. We’re the first medical team they’ve ever seen.”

Kurtz is about to enter a totally different sporting world when he leaves Feb. 16 for San Diego and the Professional Golf Association’s World Golf Championships.

“The top 60 players in the world will be there, and it’s a great honor to be able to work with them,” Kurtz said.

Professional golfers are a different breed of cat from the ones he is working with now, Kurtz said. “The PGA has a fitness trailer and we work with a lot of highly motivated players who are very pro-active about their conditioning. They come in and work on muscle tightness, strengthening their back, abdominal and buttock muscles. It’s more about refinements than crisis management.”

While at the Olympics, Kurtz and his colleagues work in conjunction with the mainstream medical teams. This collaboration is at the heart of Kurtz’ reasons for working the games. “There’s a whole contingent of people in both the medical profession and the general population that have a low opinion of chiropractic,” Kurtz said. “I do this to help expose people to what it is a sports chiropractor does.”

Besides, he says, a bigger goal is at stake. “We need to work together for the benefit of the athletes and sports.”

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