Meet the Rock Doc: Charlie Kautz, DC
Thursday, June 2, 2016
Dr. Charlie Kautz doesn’t exactly have your average chiropractic clientele. To be sure, the 29-year old chiropractor sees plenty of patients at his traditional office, Chiropractic and Wellness on Pewaukee Lake. But it’s beyond the confines of the clinic, backstage at rock venues and music festivals, where “Dr. Charlie” becomes “the Musician’s Physician”. Swapping the exam room for the green room, Kautz works to keep aching artists in touring acts—indie rockers My Morning Jacket, jam band Umphrey’s McGee, retro-soul crooner Leon Bridges and members of both Taylor Swift’s and Billy Idol’s bands, to name a few—rocking and rolling.
Interview by Jeremy Shulkin
The Wisconsin Chiropractor:
How did you end up treating musicians?
Dr. Charlie Kautz: About halfway through school I decided that I wanted to make musicians and music my focus. It was always my passion. I played music and was always the guy who was friends with all the guys in the band. I knew I wanted to be a chiropractor, but at the same time I was always into live music and intrigued by the business side of the music industry.
I had this crazy lightbulb moment and knew that this was what I wanted to do. So the seed was planted before I graduated. And after I left Logan I just really started doing it. I started off small and really worked locally. I would talk to local venues and figure out ways to have me come on site, and I made friends with local bands. It was all pro-bono to start just to introduce a lot of these people to chiropractic.
I’ve been friends with a phenomenal prog-rock band out of Nashville called Moon Taxi for nearly a decade now and have gotten to do some big festivals, hang and meet a lot of people with those guys. All the relationships started with the bands themselves. It was really just a lot of pieces that fell into place after deciding to mesh my profession with what I’m passionate about.
When were you first exposed to chiropractic?
I went to a primary-care physician for a running injury in high school. He spent about five minutes with me and prescribed me muscle relaxers and told me I had to stay off my feet for a few weeks which would’ve ended my cross-country season. I had about a million questions and it was a pretty disheartening experience in general.
Then my cousin, Dr. Tad Diciaula, had just graduated from Logan University at the time and told me to go see one of his classmates who was practicing in my hometown. I didn’t know why I was going to go see a chiropractor for shin splints but you know, I would’ve done anything at that point. Long story short, I was back running in two weeks and ended up finishing 13th in the state competition. It was an eye-opening experience and is when I began to understand there could be more to treating and managing musculoskeletal injuries than merely prescribing medication to mask symptoms.
Dr. Charlie Kautz poses backstage with soul artist Leon Bridges.
What's it like treating professional musicians?
They are exactly like everyone else, except they’re really good at playing music. That’s how you have to treat them. People get star struck backstage and that’s easy to pick up on right away. You’ve just got to be yourself, keep conversations pertinent and treat them like a patient, because that’s what they are. I think that has a big role in being able to work on any sort of VIP patient, particularly if you happen to be a fan.
Any chiropractor or musician will tell you a crucial aspect of health care is bedside manner—allowing a patient to feel very comfortable. It’s an intimate experience. I think the key to working and being able to heal anyone is making sure they’re as comfortable as possible. I just try to be part of the team. That’s been a key to my success. It’s not like you can just magically say “I want to work with musicians.” There’s a lot of relationship building that goes into it and a lot of persistence. It’s felt natural, because I’m so passionate about it. It’s rewarding and cool to work on my favorite bands. Not just to provide my service, but also to become friends with them and establish relationships, where they trust me and come to me for advice and questions.
What sorts of injuries do you see, and how do you treat them?
A lot of my protocols with musicians is on the upper extremities. If I have a guitarist and he uses a pick for the majority of the performance then I’ll do a lot of work on the pollicis muscles,which is a muscle in your thumb. I’ll also do work on specific forearm tendons, use Active Release Technique and other soft tissue modalities on the specific muscles and make sure all the joints are biomechanically functioning the way they should. For bassists and guitarists, their left arm is fret arm, so it’s performing in a flexed position for a long period of time. Drummers, their big concern is medial epicondylitis, which is golfer’s elbow, I call it “drummer’s elbow.” So I’ll work the specific muscle groups associated with the repetitive motions and positions that particular musician is doing on an everyday basis.
A lot of these guys I’m working with I only see one or two nights. I’m really trying to provide them with an educational experience. If something weird is going on or they’re coming down with something on the road, I’ll get a random phone call just so I can steer them in the right direction. I incorporate a combination of soft tissue treatments, chiropractic work, functional rehab exercises. I use RockTape, which is a kinesiology sports tape. A lot of bands I work with call it the “magic tape”, and they really feel it helps them perform better.
Is it accurate to say this is an extremely niche specialty?
There’s not many people out there doing this because you need to have a working knowledge of musicians and the types of injuries they’re experiencing but also have to be able to communicate and be on their level and be familiar with how the music industry works. It’s almost like a different language one must master in order to effectively coordinate with managers and promoters. Nobody had really heard of a chiropractor who was working on musicians.
I worked with John Densmore, drummer for The Doors, early in my career. I met him at a book signing event at a record store I stopped by to get a book signed for a family member. I was one of the last guys in line, and I was watching everyone freeze up when they got to talk to him. I have an energetic personality and kind of hit it off with him right away, though. He asked me what I did, and I said I was a chiropractor who worked with bands and musicians, and he immediately asked if I’d be okay working with him. I said of course and we coordinated it.
He explained that The Doors, back at the height of their touring career, would bring chiropractors to the venue about twice a week to treat the band before they played. That was one of those moments where I was, like, one of the biggest bands in rock history is doing what I had an idea to do—and way back when chiropractic was seen as voodoo in most peoples’ eyes—and they really found benefits. So that was a really cool experience for me to have early in my career, certainly a motivating factor.
A lot of bands I work with call it the “magic tape”, and they really feel it helps them perform better.
-Dr. Kautz on his patients' love of RockTape
Dr. Charlie Kautz works with a performer from the band Umphrey's McGee.