As one of the foremost experts and leading innovators in the world of Sports Medicine, Dr. Tim Brown has more than 30 years of experience working with some of the world’s most recognizable athletes across a wide range of sports. As a former college football player, pro beach volleyball player, and skilled surfer/snowboarder, Dr. Brown knows firsthand about the frustration of injury, pain management, and the painstaking process of rehab and recovery. He is regarded as one of the “godfathers of functional taping” for his innovative approach to kinesiology taping methods. Today, Dr. Brown serves as the Co-Medical Director of the World Surf League (WSL- formerly the ASP), Medical and Performance Consultant for RedBull and Medical and Performance Director for the Hurley Men’s and Women’s Pro surf teams, as well as the Founder and Innovator of Intelliskin posture apparel. We had the chance to catch up with Dr. Brown to talk about his inspirations and journey as an athlete treating athletes. Read on for part one of our interview below.
Can you give us a little history about your life as an athlete?
My dad was an all-around athlete/surfer who grew up in Southern California and played football in Hawaii for the Marines during the Korean War. My dad learned the sport of surfing in Hawaii. Surfing and its Polynesian roots culture has had a tremendous influence on my life. After the war many of my dad’s Hawaiian friends moved to the mainland. I grew up going to a lot of traditional luaus in Newport Beach. When all the Hawaiian families we knew got together we had so much fun! There was so much love, passion and respect…I learned to look at many things from the Hawaiian, the Polynesian perspective. This made surfing …”The Sport of Polynesian Kings” something that just came naturally. Not only did my dad surf, (and of course I thought he was the coolest guy in the planet), it was another way to hang with the Hawaiian guys and girls who lived their lives in and around the water…fishing, swimming, diving…Full on aloha style while always showing much love and giving and respect for their elders, the earth…Mother Nature.
So no surprise in looking back their culture and their spirit for life has played a big part in choosing and shaping my path in life…they unconsciously converted me and made the health of ocean and earth my religion.
My dad was a great football player and shared so much of his passion for the game with my brother (an incredibly talented athlete, father of 7 and also a Sports Chiropractor!) and I. He coached Pop Warner football as I was growing up, so before I was old enough to play I was always excited to go to practice to watch and learn.
One particular stand out on his team, the Costa Mesa Colts, was a tough, freckle faced red headed fullback on the team, “Shultzy”…number 22, who was about the toughest, most agile guy I’d ever seen in my eight years. No matter the score Shultzy always finished the game with the most new color on his helmet (from hitting the other players helmets). I ended up being his biggest fan and modeled my style of play and even my number, 22 after him—his play became my standard for toughness. I kept that attitude and was able to enjoy success as a football player. I also played volleyball, and baseball during high school.
Always doing my best to improve, but because training techniques were so old school, I wasn’t always doing the right things. I was lifting weights and doing the work to get myself bigger and stronger, but I wasn’t really making my body more functional (We’d only stretch if the coach made us!)
I didn’t move as well as I know I could have (especially knowing what I know now) and I believe this was the reason I had so many injuries. But fortunately for me I learned some important life lessons. The long, long list of performance and training mistakes I made in my own athletic career has really proven to be a great educational experience.
You never lose unless you lose the lesson.
I went on to play football at the University of Redlands. We had great chemistry, an incredible coach and a very talented team and didn’t lose for four years in our league. In time we moved up in the national rankings, and finally we qualified to play in the National Championships, which was a great honor and experience …even though we lost to a great team in the final twenty seconds.
Because of the incredible professors at the University of Redlands I recognized my love of biology and physiology. I loved learning how the body functions and gaining a deeper, more macro to micro perspective of what Greater possibilities into what one could do to improve performance and prevent future injuries.
During my college career, I weighed up to 220 lbs. on my six-foot frame. I wasn’t very fast, but I was pretty big and strong. However…since we had no clue about functional fitness (no movement assessment, no corrective exercise, etc.) we had no idea about the importance of a foundation built upon mobility and stability. It was old school training and the importance of things like periodization and sports nutrition for recovery wasn’t even talked about.
I didn’t know the true meaning of the word “functional” back then, but I was always looking for things to improve myself and one of the things that I hated to do most was to stretch.
The wake up call
It wasn’t until I met a guy named Gerry Lopez, who is a Hawaiian surfing legend, that I got the real eye opener that has prevented injury, allowed me to still surf on a board shorter than me at my age and improved my quality life and my overall athleticism …Ahhh, my good friend mobility.
Gerry had been surfing all over the world in exotic places like Indonesia and Bali in the 70’s and spent time learning from yogis and practiced yoga everywhere he went. He was just the most unbelievable surfer I’d ever seen. He was so smooth on a wave and flowed like water. I wanted desperately to emulate him ( albeit on much smaller waves!)
Following his yoga and breathing routine helped me to truly feel and understand my body and it’s imbalances for the first time. His focus on posture and alignment and combining proper breath with every movement was transformational. I was a bigger, stronger athlete with no mobility and was always injured. From Gerry’s practical perspective and explanations, I learned a lot about how if you’re not breathing properly and if you’re not mobile, you’re guaranteed to be on the injured list…repeatedly and for life!
The Training Room
I learned playing in college that the typical Athletic Trainer will always do his/her best, but treating you with ultrasound, hot packs and ice packs or the team MD stopping by to treat you with injectable drugs or give you pills was certainly limiting! That was kind of the training system/paradigm we had at the University and that was the way it was back in the 1970’s. During my frequent visits to the training room, I had powerful questions driven by my innate curiosity about the body going through my mind. I thought ok, there’s got to be something I can do outside of what the trainer is doing for me, outside of the training room. There has to be something I can do to help enhance me and my teammates chances of training smarter, healing more efficiently and effectively…and to ultimately stay out of the training room.
After I graduated, I taught school and coached high school football for a season. Discovering early on that I love to teach but hated the curriculum I went back into school (OCC) to finish up my Premed and study for the MCATS. As a bonus I got to be on the national championship surfing team surfing and played on the volleyball team. One day I met up with a high school friend to go surfing and he was in Chiropractic College at the time. He said to me, hey, you’ve always been into nutrition, taking great care of your body and exercise—Why are you going to Medical School? He said, you’ll be treating the symptoms and giving people pills and cutting and that’s not what I’ve seen you into. He said, go to my car after surfing and take a look at this article I have.
I went to read it after finishing surfing and after the first two sentences; the philosophy just grabbed me by the heart. I remember thinking: Looking for the cause? The sentence alone was noble to me. I was reading about treating conditions with nutrition, exercise and education. From that moment on, even though I’d never been to a Chiropractor, I knew that was what I wanted to be.
So after you graduated from Cleveland Chiropractic College, how did you get involved with the AVP (Pro Beach Volleyball Tour) and sports-related chiropractic?
I had a few influences in school; one was a teacher named Rick Morris and he was the chiropractor for the LA Clippers in the late 70’s, early 80’s. It was unbelievable to me that this guy was working with the Clippers, because I’d never heard about any professional teams working with chiropractors …out loud. You might have heard some rumblings, but it was never really discussed in public. Seriously.
We had some very “lively” back and forth discussions in class based upon the things I was learning during my time at doctor Leroy Perry’s clinic. I was finally understanding just how much I loved this stuff. I loved that I loved to learn!
Another influence of mine was the very doctor who was subject of the article… the one from my buddy’s car. The moment I decided to go to Chiropractic College. The article was about Dr. Leroy Perry and it was about how he had been arrested for treating athletes at the Olympics and helping them with Chiropractic without the okay from the official medical staff. When he was in jail, the athletes he worked with would bail him out and he’d go back and try to help them again and he’d get arrested again…it was a laughable but true story.
The medically exclusive model was hurting athletes…
One of the reasons I was into working with an interdisciplinary team was because of the example of structure based medical care that never considered the functional approach to performance and recovery and injury.
A former wrestler, Leroy knew what the athletes needed because he looked at it through the eyes of the whole athlete balancing structure, biochemistry and mind.
Legend has it he would go out and treat Bruce Jenner, Dwight Stones and Carl Lewis—each a legend in US Track and Field history and athletes from around the world would request treat from him wherever he’d set up his table. The American athletes rallied for him to go to the Olympics with the team and beg him to show up at the US Track and Field championships, but he would not get an official invitation. He’d show up with a table and hide out under the stairs of the stadium or at a hotel, wherever he could treat athletes, out of sight.
I ended up signing up for a series of seminars with Leroy and it was called the Team of Champions, he was helping younger guys building their chiropractic careers towards a sports specialty.
I started to go in and follow him around his office and he was amazing. Before the advent of video, he built unique ways to observe and assess faulty gait and movement patterns of some of the best athletes from around the world. He designed these tools so not only he could see their imbalances but the athlete, coach and trainer could also witness the faults so they could then collaborate and correct with visualization, treatment and specifically prescribed exercise. It was mind blowing to see an athlete walk or run through a corridor that was 20 yards long with mirrors at every imaginable angle on both sides and the ceiling all inside this “house of mirrors”!
This was decades before you could use motion analysis systems of today.
He used the mirrors for motion analysis and at any point he would stop the athlete in place and have a look in the mirror to see how the mechanics were off or on.
He had the ability to think about all aspects of the athlete, and would just think, what is this person doing during the day, every day? What are they eating? What are they thinking, feeling? Back then this was called the Triangle of Health: biochemistry, structure and nervous system.
This view is something that I’ve kept with me my entire career. I’ve built my career looking at an injury, but I also look at the person. Once you start looking at the person, guess what? The answer to the cause of an injury is inside that person. What is it in their environment and history that created the imbalances in their movement and subsystems that contributed to their present condition.This allows you to ask a broad range of questions, be a better investigator, because the answer is inside the patient and not always found if the doctor doesn’t ask the right questions. History taking is king (or queen)!
We just have to be sharp enough and aware enough ( consider biopsychsocial aspects too) to be able to ask the right questions.
What advice do you have for aspiring Sports Chiros?
First, find your passion. Find a body part, a sport, a technique—find your passion part of the body and own it! There is so much quality information available to students I fear they may be overwhelmed by doing their best to become great at treating every body part, condition with many techniques that can take years to master. Get comfortable at being the go to person for the injury that you’ve had or are fascinated by. You can then expand great treatment in one area to the next.That’s critical, because it takes so many hours and so much energy and determination to master…so if you don’t love it, you’re going to hate it and lose interest in being great at treating it. No one can do it all so build a solid network of those who share same health philosophies from MDs to acupuncturists!
Find mentors. Find those that are really good in business, strong in philosophy and are fantastic in technique. You may not find all of these qualities in one office; you may have to go to twenty. Offer to take out their trash, offer to help them clean, do whatever it takes…and you’ll be surprised at how much you’ll learn just for making the minimal effort. Say, I really appreciate what you’re doing for your patients and how you do it. How about if I come in and help you clean up after work every day, and for that I get to spend a couple of hours watching you treat? The world will open its doors to you if you make the effort and follow your passion.
This content is by Dr. Tim Brown. To read more about Dr. Brown, click here. You should seek expert counsel in evaluating opinions, treatments, products and services. For more info see our Editorial Policies.