The Dangers of Treating at the Gym

Finding and treating patients at the gym may seem ideal but use care in doing so.

Risk Management

The Dangers of Treating at the Gym

Many D.C.s use the gym as a place to build a reputation and find patients. This seems ideal since people who frequent the gym are already tuned in to being physically fit, but this behavior can result in serious consequences.


Using the gym as a place to build a reputation and find patients may seem ideal at first glance. However, here's why you need to be careful in doing so:

1. Doctor Aids Racquetball Player

A doctor offered to provide chiropractic treatment to a man who complained about a sore shoulder after playing a game of racquetball. Though a little skeptical about receiving chiropractic treatment, the man agreed to the offer. The D.C. only provided heat therapy and a massage treatment since the man seemed apprehensive and tensed up during treatment. Only a cursory physical exam was conducted.

When the man was in the locker room a few minutes later, the D.C. approached him from behind and performed a cervical adjustment as he stood. The D.C. wanted to catch the man by surprise so he wouldn’t be as tense as he was earlier.

Unfortunately, the man ended up with neck discomfort, which ultimately resulted in an allegation of trauma to the neck and failure to provide informed consent. Though the patient’s condition improved and the case was settled out of court for a nominal amount, it was reported to the National Practitioner Data Bank and resulted in negative publicity. (Generally any time there is a settlement, it must be disclosed to the Data Bank.) This may have caused the D.C. problems with health insurance networks and licensing boards.

2. Treatment of Basketball Injury 

During a friendly game of pickup basketball, one of the players fell to the floor, grabbing his knee. A D.C. participating in the game attempted to assist the injured player. Without an examination, the D.C. told the injured man that his kneecap was dislocated. He then attempted to put the kneecap back in place.

Several days later, the injured player sought medical care and underwent an MRI, which revealed significant ligament damage to the knee. Later, the man claimed the D.C.’s adjustment caused this damage. 

Though performed with the best of intentions, this practice can be risky. If a malpractice allegation results, a plaintiff’s attorney would likely contend services were compromised because records were not kept, a case history was not taken, an exam was not performed (or it was an “inadequate” cursory exam) and proper equipment wasn't available. 

Without evidence from the defense to prove otherwise, the plaintiff’s attorney would be in a prime position to demonstrate the doctor violated the state’s standard of care. Substantial awards can result, putting a D.C.’s assets and career in jeopardy.

3. Friendly Suggestion in the Locker Room

Two friends were in the locker room after an intense workout with weights. After showering, one of the men said he felt dizzy and nauseous. The other man, who was a D.C., told his friend he should drink some water and go home and rest since he was probably dehydrated. The man did just that.

When he still felt “funny” the next day, the man went to the emergency room with symptoms of a full-blown CVA. He later blamed the D.C. for providing him with improper advice.

Why was the D.C.’s casual remark so risky when his friend wasn’t even his patient? A doctor’s comments carry considerably more weight than two friends in a casual conversation. This particular case met the legal definition of “providing a professional service and establishing a doctor-patient relationship” because the friend followed the D.C.’s comments. Once a doctor-patient relationship is established, a patient can initiate a malpractice action if something goes wrong.


The information in the NCMIC Learning Center is offered solely for general information and educational purposes. It is not offered as, nor does it represent, legal or professional advice. Neither does this information constitute a guideline, practice parameter or standard of care. You should not act or rely upon this information without seeking the advice of an attorney familiar with the specific legal requirements of the state(s) in which you practice. If there is a discrepancy between the site and an insurance policy you have with NCMIC, the policy will prevail.