Becoming A Sports ChiroPractor with Dr. T.J. Hagan
In this episode, T.J. Discussed 5 main points to become a great sports doctor. Download your free checklist here, follow along, and see amazing things happen in your sports practice. T.J. is one of the best authorities in sports med for chiropractors as he is the official chiropractor of both the Boston Red Sox, and the New England Patriots.
Download my Getting Started in Sports Checklist by clicking here!
Dr. Joshua Eldridge: Welcome to episode 5 of the ChiroPractice Pro podcast. Our podcast today will discuss how to get involved at a professional level with sports. We specifically discussed football and baseball, but the same principles would apply to dance, mixed martial arts, or other high-level performance athletes. Dr. TJ Hagan is our guest today, and he is a sports chiropractor for both the Boston Red Sox and the New England Patriots. TJ has extensive knowledge of the professional sports world. But remember, he didn’t start at the big leagues.
He started in the trenches with local athletics and no pay. Because so many chiropractors wanna get started with sports, we’ve put together a checklist of how to get started in sports as a provider. This checklist is entitled, “5 Ways To Get Started in Sports.” Go to chiropracticepro.com/episode5 to download your free checklist. That’s chiropracticepro.com/episode5. Let’s get started with Dr. TJ Hagan, sports chiropractor for the Boston Red Sox and the New England Patriots. TJ, welcome and thanks for joining me. Tell me a little bit about your chiropractic journey.
Dr. TJ Hagan: Thanks for having me, Josh. I’ll try to give you the short story and not keep you here all day. I guess you could always say I was always interested in science. Thought about becoming a surgeon for a little while there and steered away from that path after surgeries which was amazing, but it’s a lot for a patient, right? I kind of wanna work with people that were awake and not under anesthesia. Someone suggested chiropractic to me. I really didn’t know too much about the profession.
I was never a patient growing up. It wasn’t a big thing in my family. I had the opportunity to shadow a couple of really great chiropractors that were helping people with their hands and getting really fast results with some good active people. That appealed to me. From there, I jumped right into chiropractic and ran with it. It’s been a great profession and a lot of fun. Hard work, but very fun.
Dr. Joshua Eldridge: Out of school, where did you get started? What was your first job out of school?
Dr. TJ Hagan: My first job was in a practice that actually dealt with a lot of athletes. I worked with a woman, Sheree Russell who was a PT, an ATC and a DC, so kind of a unique combo there. I learned a lot from her. We worked with some high school teams, and a woman’s professional football actually. She became an owner of a team which was really cool. That was kind of my first exposure working with athletes. From there, I moved full time into Cambridge, started working in another practice there which is where I am now. I’ve been there ever since.
Dr. Joshua Eldridge: Yeah, and tell me a little bit about your sports journey.
Dr. TJ Hagan: Well, there are a few random things. I was helping a friend out with men’s semi-pro football league which is interesting. I don’t know if you’ve worked with one of these leagues before. It’s a lot of guys with a lot of heart. They’re in their 20’s, 30’s and 40’s. They suit up and they play some real football. It’s interesting. Their physiques are not what they used to be in high school or college when they played, but they got all the heart.
Dr. Joshua Eldridge: Yeah, I saw my first ACL injury at a semi-pro football. I think it was just a practice.
Dr. TJ Hagan: So you’ve seen this before. It’s interesting, they really had no healthcare whatsoever, kind of scary. It was a funny thing, I showed up, there was an EMT there who was probably 16, that was it. These guys were playing a game Saturday night in stadium under the lights. The first thing, there was a quarterback with blown PCL. He’s got this brace on. They’re supposed to keep him stable. He goes in, he plays, he gets it really low, really hard, down the knee. His knee’s hanging on by a thread basically. And coach wants to put them back in. It was this classic scenario. Being a hero and we had to try to talk coach out of it. This is again with my first sports experience, right? Another player dislocated his finger. I may have put it back.
Yeah, a lot of excitement within 30 minutes of football, it was a lot of fun. I think from there, I started working with women’s professional soccer with the Boston Breakers. The same group also cared for men’s indoor lacrosse, the Boston Blazers. Those are great, great groups to work with. Men’s lacrosse is really exciting, indoor version, I had never really seen before. I didn’t have much exposure to it. Those guys play really hard. It’s an action-packed game, a lot of fun to watch. A great group of players, great group of guys. Two of them played outdoor on our local team as well, Cannons, did a little work with those guys. Women’s professional soccer was great. We worked with them for a number of years. Their players are really dedicated, very, very talented.
Dr. Joshua Eldridge: How did you get linked up with these teams?
Dr. TJ Hagan: With that group, with the women’s professional soccer and with men’s lacrosse, we had a new orthopedist that came into town, a younger guy from upstate New York. Since he got here, I’d met with him just to learn more about his practice. Oddly enough, when the women’s professional soccer came into town, they were looking for an orthopedist. They weren’t necessarily looking for a chiropractor right away, but they were looking for an orthopedist. I can’t remember the connection there, but somehow we caught wind of this. I reached out to this orthopedist that I had met recently, told him about this opportunity and connected the two. From there, he’s building his healthcare team, he asked me to come on board. I helped out the team and then one team dovetailed into the other. It may have been soccer first, and then lacrosse second.
Dr. Joshua Eldridge: That’s a great marketing lesson, I think for a lot of people is you help this guy out, he helped you out at the same time, that’s really cool.
Dr. TJ Hagan: Absolutely, yeah it worked out really well. He kind of understood where we were coming from a networking basis where he is new to town. Usually, most orthopedic surgeons are pretty set with patients. They don’t really need to build a practice. This plain worked out there for them, everybody clearly understands what they do. But he was new and was building up his patient base. He understood where we were coming from. We’ve great relationship for a number of years after that.
Dr. Joshua Eldridge: That’s brilliant. Then after that, gone on to some bigger teams. What was your next kind of step in this process?
Dr. TJ Hagan: Sure, our practice has been affiliated with Harvard for a number of years because we’re right down the street. We’ve been their preferred chiropractic outreach for a long time. We started working closely with their sports medicine team a while back. They had a kind of a changing of the guard with their head trainer left and the new trainer came on board. We were able to set up a deal where you could provide care on-site at the University with this new trainer.
He really thought that chiropractic was an important thing to have right there in their field house. In a similar scenario, to the other two teams that I worked with, the orthopedic group that worked with Harvard also cared for a number of teams including the Red Sox and Patriots. It was the Red Sox that had a massive overhaul of their sports medicine department. They were looking for a new chiropractor. They had appointed a physical therapist to go out and look for various positions to fill.
I’m fairly certain that it was because of the affiliation I had with Harvard that they called on me and threw me into the pool of applicants. It’s interesting, we went through a number of interviews over the course of five days, just meeting with every one of their team doc’s, kind of rapid-fire. You get a call at 12, well, so and so can meet you at 3, can you be there? Then you’ve got to cancel patients which I always feel bad doing. Run over there and meet with doctor blah-blah-blah and go through that interview. Then the next day, I always had a suit my car ready to go. After multiple interviews, it worked out and it was a good fit. The Red Sox was the next team that I had started working with.
Then a few years down the road, the Patriots had a need for someone to do soft tissue. That’s as you know is a big part of our practice. We went in and did interviews with those guys. Started working down there. It started out as like two mornings a week and then the need grew a little bit. 53 guys on their roster. There’s a lot of bodies down there and a lot that were in need, they get pretty banged up. That two hours came to be two days and then we’re down there I think five days a week now, half days. You know, half day clinics, but turned out to be a lot more time than we thought it was gonna be but it’s a lot of fun. Yeah, that’s sort of how it kind of grew together. I think affiliating with these groups was very, very helpful. It’s a small town. It’s Boston, there aren’t too many people that do what we do. If you’re known within one circle, then you become trusted. Your name gets thrown into the hat when there’s a need that pops up.
Dr. Joshua Eldridge: When you go down to these clinics, what’s it like to be in the training room with the athletes, and what’s the dynamics that happens down there? Because I think that’s an interesting thing for a lot of chiropractors because they go from their normal life in the office where they’re the boss to maybe they’re part of the team now, hopefully.
Dr. TJ Hagan: Yeah it’s interesting. You leave a place where you’re creating care plans, you’re doing maybe corrective exercise, soft tissue, using adjustments, you’re doing all sorts of things to help people get better, but when you go onto one of these teams, you’re filling a need, their need. You have to figure out what that is and what the best thing it is that you can offer. You’re not gonna be doing everything that you have in your repertoire. As I mentioned for the Patriots, they need us for mostly soft tissue. It’s kind of odd to go down and try to just wear that hat where you would prefer to make a diagnosis, you prefer to create a plan, but it’s really just a stripped-down model of care.
You’re dependent on these other folks that are there which thankfully, the groups that I’ve worked with, they’re incredibly talented. You don’t really feel the need to try to do more because you know that they’ve got talented hands around them. It’s a great environment. There are a lot of multidisciplinary centers out there offering care and they claim to have meetings once a week to talk about patients. Maybe that happens, but I know a lot of them start out that way and then that really doesn’t happen down the road and it’s not true integrated care.
But here, the PT is working on the table next to me and the athletic trainer is on the next table down. There’s open conversation. A patient may get dry needling right next to me and then get passed to my table as though it were an assembly line. We’re treating the same structures. You know, “What did you find?” “I found this.” “Okay, great let’s tap this.” We’ve always said it’d be great to recreate this for everyday folks, humans like you and I, that would be awesome.
Dr. Joshua Eldridge: Absolutely. The neat thing about the Patriots is you guys have a common goal, right? And that’s to win a championship. I think when you keep that in mind, as a sports doc, it puts a lot of things in perspective. You don’t have to be the boss, you can be part of that team.
Dr. TJ Hagan: Right, an environment as you’ve seen that you got to leave your ego at the door when you go in. So oftentimes in your office, you feel like you’re the only one that’s got to make it happen. But it really is, you’ve got your own team working on this team with that end goal of getting that championship or getting to that championship and it’s really an interesting environment. It doesn’t work for everybody. A lot of folks don’t wanna go in and just assume that everybody else is doing a good job. They wanna go in and they can’t take that hat off of being the overall manager, the director of care, which role we all play in our offices, right?
Dr. Joshua Eldridge: Yeah, so in the training room, and you kind of alluded to it before, but do they ever come to you and just say, “Hey, I’m just curious about this patient. Is there something else that we could be doing that–” Do you guys have that conversation
Dr. TJ Hagan: Which is great, yeah it definitely happens with folks that aren’t getting better as quickly. I’d say the same with the Red Sox as well. They do a great job of really talking openly about different patients, different patterns. You end up doing a little teaching in there as well which is great. A lot of chiropractors that I’ve run into, they want to hold dearly and covet the adjustment. We’re the only ones that can do it. That’s true, we’ve spent a lot of time mastering this technique. There’s a lot to it, it’s not easy, but there are other folks out there that can do it as well. Why not help them improve their skills instead of just trying to protect it and hold it guard like that.
I’ve been a big proponent of that. It’s fun to go through a little bit of education. I’m getting educated at the same time by the techniques that they use, but there is a lot of open talk about, “This guy’s not progressing, what do you think, what patterns are you seeing, how has his presentation changed over the last four weeks?” A lot of times, it’s, “Here’s what I see, go take a look. Let’s see if it’s the same thing.” It happens in real time which is not like the next time you see him two weeks down the road, take a look at him, you let me know what you think. It’s great to have everything happen in the now. It makes for great care.
Dr. Joshua Eldridge: Who’s the ultimate boss on the training room?
Dr. TJ Hagan: Definitely the head athletic trainer. Most of the cases that I’ve seen. It’s a very underappreciated position across the board from most sports medicine departments. They’re definitely wearing the captain’s hat, they’re very good at it most often. Has that been your experience as well?
Dr. Joshua Eldridge: Yeah, absolutely. I just went up to Life because that’s near us. They had the– trying to think of the name. It’s the Chiropractic Baseball Association, something?
Dr. TJ Hagan: Yeah, I was supposed to be there.
Dr. Joshua Eldridge: Oh, that would have been cool if you were to come. But it was head trainer from the Cubs who was there. He was a really cool guy. They had a couple good presentations. But the chiropractors mostly talked about their experience, they were talking to the students a lot.
It was neat to see how they got into it, and it’s very similar to how you said. A lot of them just said they made that call or they stepped out and said, hey, I’ll try and see, but every single one of them said they had to be part of a team. None of them got to walk in there and say, hey I’m the boss because they would have just told them hit the road. They don’t need somebody like that.
Dr. TJ Hagan: I’m sure you’ve seen it as well. I’ve seen it. The folks that have failed in that position. Usually, it’s trying to do too much and doing stuff that’s just way off the reservation. It’s one thing if you really are working with a core staff and you feel like you’ve got to step up and cover for them. In some of those smaller market teams that I’ve worked with, I end up doing a lot more just because really, I’d say there’s not enough bodies, not that there wasn’t– The head athletic trainer wasn’t talented but it may have been just him or just her. They have a lot of people to take care of, so they end up wearing a few hats and doing a little bit more. In those higher market teams, there’s so many people that are so talented. I think some folks just can’t grasp that.
Dr. Joshua Eldridge: What advice would you give to a young doc that was coming up in the chiropractic and really wanted to get a part of sports? Because that’s where I was, but I didn’t really have anybody to reach out to. I didn’t know anybody, but I thought it would be cool if someone– what advice would you give to them, how they should get started?
Dr. TJ Hagan: I do think a lot of it is who you know. I don’t wanna say it’s just who you know and not what you know. Knowing those people when the knee pops up, you’re there and staying fresh in their minds is really important. I would say to anyone that’s looking to get into sports is don’t be picky and selective. Don’t wait for the day for the major league baseball team, they will just to pick up the phone and reach out to you, right? Take whatever low-hanging fruit you can get, help out with that semi-pro football team that’s got nobody there. Help out with the local over 40 men’s league. You’ll really feel comfortable very quickly in that on-field experience or that locker room, that training room dynamic. You get pretty comfortable in that field and you get comfortable making those decisions and then working with whatever other healthcare members got around. I talked to some students and some newer chiropractors out there that they didn’t feel like it was worth their effort to go help out in some lower market team. I’m not gonna get paid for it, and I should be at the practice make money, but there’s a huge payout. They don’t wanna give up their weekends, my wife would tell you I spent many a Saturday night at whatever game or whatever practice there was. It was tough ,but it was definitely worthwhile at the end if you’re trusted in those smaller markets, then you can work your way up to the bigger market teams for sure.
Dr. Joshua Eldridge: Like you said, people like to talk in sports. They tell each other about what they found works. Especially athletes, it’ll just go through like wildfire when one athlete is like, I feel great when this guy works on me. How does working with these professional sports teams now, the Red Sox and the Patriots, how does that affect your daily practice? How do you see a crossover?
Dr. TJ Hagan: Yeah, I’d say it’s definitely challenging trying to run both. Working with athletes is always a passion of mine. It’s not incredibly lucrative. Thankfully they pay us, but it’s certainly not big breadwinner. Just trying to allocate enough time in the practice to work with the normal humans and enough time with these teams so that you can actually establish a relationship with the athletes and be there often enough that they can utilize your services, but not so often so that it kills your practice. I think we’re still learning that, but it’s a constant battle. If it we’re up to me, I’d be hanging out at Harvard a couple days a week just watching some practices and spend some time in the training room. But I’m not independently wealthy.
We’ve had this sort of tailor that clinic over time and figure out, I can’t do two days there. I can do one day, put in a few more hours that day. Tweaking that a little bit has been challenging, but it’s definitely worthwhile. I think the patients really appreciate hearing about how we can integrate care there. I’m learning things every day in these different environments and then bringing that back there. I think they really value that times. They get a little frustrated when they can’t see you exactly when they wanna see you because you’re traveling with some team or whatnot, but they get over that when they really sense that value of the education that you, the practitioner is getting when you’re out on the field and traveling with these teams.
Dr. Joshua Eldridge: Did the Patriots get you a ring last year?
Dr. TJ Hagan: They did, they did yeah. It was great. It’s great to feel at least included in that and I really didn’t care if it was made of aluminum. I don’t think it is, it looks pretty shiny, but it’s great to get the nod there. The second year is with the Red Sox, we ended up getting one there as well. Little beginner’s luck there.
Dr. Joshua Eldridge: When did you start working with the Patriots?
Dr. TJ Hagan: That was two seasons ago.
Dr. Joshua Eldridge: Okay, is that when they beat the Seahawks the first time?
Dr. TJ Hagan: It was the spring after that big win.
Dr. Joshua Eldridge: Okay, because that’s my team was the Seahawks, every time I think about you guys working with them, I’m like argh, but then I’m like well it’s all right. Cool any last words of advice that you got for docs that are interested in sports? I mean you’ve given some gems already, but anything else that you wanna leave with them?
Dr. TJ Hagan: Well I just say meet everyone that you possibly can. A good number of us have a hard time going out and trying to advertise our services, but the big part of our networking is really trying to figure out and meet or trying to meet people for our patients as resources, places to refer to. We’re not necessarily going out and beating our drums saying you’ve got to send your people to us. We’re the only ones that can get them better. More so Josh, what do you do? What do you specialize in so that we can send our people to you and we end up applying that primary care doctor for neuromusculoskeletal conditions. They’re sending people out in many directions. The more you can get your name out there on that or in that way, I think is really helpful and knowing those people, it’s paid off huge for us.
Dr. Joshua Eldridge: Very cool. Well TJ, thanks for joining us, that was perfect. I’m sure we’ll have you back on one day in the future and just talk about another championship or something like that.
Dr. TJ Hagan: Anytime, man. Thanks for having me.
Dr. Joshua Eldridge: All right, we’ll talk to my soon.
Dr. TJ Hagan: Take care.
Dr. Joshua Eldridge: Thank You, TJ for joining us on the ChiroPracticePro podcast. Your insights into sports are truly amazing. Don’t forget to download your free guide to getting started in sports and our show notes at chiropracticepro.com/episode5. That’s chiropracticepro.com/episode5. If you’re finding value in the ChiroPracticePro podcast, take a minute to leave a review on iTunes and then share with a friend. We’d very much appreciate that. On episode 6 of the ChiroPracticePro podcast, Dr. Derek Barron joins us to help your clinic dominate local Google search results. It is a must listen event. Until next time, thanks for being a part of our team right here at chiropracticepro.com.
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