For this doctor to elite athletes and Olympians, chiropractic care isn't just cracking backs

Karla Wolford operates Elevate Human Potential in south Moorhead. David Samson / The Forum

MOORHEAD — Karla Wolford has seen and accomplished a lot.

The Barnesville, Minn., native and Concordia College graduate and athlete knows no limitations. She's worked with athletes of all levels — from elite youth working to make it big in their circuits to college players and even Olympians.

"I guess I busted through doors when there weren't doors and then sometimes I built a house, created a door and then busted through doors," she says, sitting in one of her treatment rooms at Elevate Human Potential, a Moorhead practice that focuses on performance and health rather than pain and illness.

After obtaining her undergraduate degree in biology and exercise physiology from Concordia, Wolford graduated with honors from Palmer College of Chiropractic West in San Jose, Calif., and continued on to get her master's degree in sports science and rehabilitation from Logan University in Missouri.

After graduate school, Wolford had the opportunity to fly down to Fort Lauderdale, Fla., to work with athletes in the Association of Volleyball Professionals (AVP) — the beach volleyball domestic tour. She currently sits on the board of the AVP sports medicine staff and runs half the event tour sites in the U.S., working with an eclectic staff of medical professionals to ensure each athlete gets proper care when competing.


While in Florida, she adjusted and worked with a multiple-time Olympic beach volleyball player and was selected by U.S. Beach Volleyball to travel with the U.S. Olympic team. She's practiced across the globe and in many events over the past decade to ensure the players stay at their peak performance level.

Karla Wolford operates Elevate Human Potential in south Moorhead. David Samson / The Forum

But it was while pursuing her master's degree where she began to notice a missing component of care when it came to athletes.

"My whole project with my master's was bridging rehab to performance, because I saw there was a huge gap," Wolford says. "People were going through regular chiropractic care or physical therapy and then they were just turning them loose to their sports or activities. They were bringing them to their activities of daily living, which is directed by insurance companies, but they weren't bringing them to their activities of daily living, they weren't bringing them to their potential or what they expected to turn back to. And then I saw their injury rates reoccurring."

She practiced in cities all over the country, from Chanhassen, Minn., and Vail, Colo., to Seattle, before coming home to Fargo-Moorhead just over five years ago. She now owns Elevate Human Potential and EHP CrossFit in Moorhead.

"I decided I wanted to take my passion and all the things I had learned over the past decade to the Fargo-Moorhead area because I felt I had a lot to offer and share with the community here with all the things I learned and places I'd been," she says. "I felt we needed to have sports medicine done a little different here."

Not just for athletes

Wolford's Moorhead practice comes from her time in various positions she's held throughout her life.


"Five years ago when I opened my practice here, I really looked at what I had done previously in my practice," she says. "I found that, man, I really liked the type of work I did with professional athletes. They're great people, but it wasn't necessarily the people — it was the type of work I was able to do."

These athletes weren't coming to her when they were already broken. Instead, they were seeking help in making sure their bodies were moving in a way that was appropriate for what they needed to do.

It's that mindset of preventative care before needed care that helped shape Wolford's technique.

"They weren't always injured or broken down," she says. "They were looking at, 'How do I prevent injury' and, 'How do I make myself faster, stronger, healthier, more flexible, more mobile in order to do what I need to do?" she says. "That's when I had this epiphany of that's what I really want to do."

Instead, she works to make clients "feel like themselves again," addressing those "nagging" things to bring them back up to their full potential.

"Whether you're an Olympic athlete or you just want to go play volleyball on Wednesday night with your friends, if your shoulder doesn't work, you can't go play volleyball," she says. "Or if you do, you're going to be paying for it for weeks."

Wolford has created an environment at Elevate Human Potential that encourages patients to become aware of their bodies and seek help when things just don't feel right. Sometimes, that starts from the ground up.

In addition to helping people get out of pain, Elevate Human Potential offers a membership-based sports performance package designed to teach members how to take care of themselves in a way that's meaningful to them and the activities they love.


"Now it's not about they're in pain, they're noticing things about their body," Wolford says. "They're becoming more aware, and that's something I try to get people to start understanding — if you don't feel symmetrical, if you don't feel level or even, tell me. I can probably work with you before the wheels fall off."

Everyone is different when they come see her, she says, but many are "sick of being hurt or injured" and ready to do what it takes to get better.

"They just really want to take care of themselves," she says.

While it's less of a necessary type of care and more of a preventative type of care, the message is the same: prioritizing health is key.

"I really think as people look into their health, I think people need to start looking and investing more in their health," she says. "I don't just say that because I am a doctor and a gym owner, but I say it because I know when people aren't prioritizing their health, I can see it. I can see what happens. And I can see the joy in people's world when they do prioritize their health. It's just this whole other mindset of how you approach life."

Wolford says she also sees the other side of things.

"It's hard for a provider if people aren't prioritizing their health," she says. "It does take extra time, effort, money and finances, but in the end, you're going to miss less work, you're going to be sick less often and you're going to live a healthier life."

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