From treating Johnny Unitas to the Orioles, longtime Towson chiropractor has gently muscled into a community fixture

Few high school quarterbacks could expect their injury to ease the pain of hundreds, maybe even thousands. But when Jeffrey Kalkstein tweaked his knee at football camp in 1970, he headed down a road laden with athletes and common folk, coming to him with aching bodies to be healed.

With the first game three days away, Kalkstein needed to be back on his knee immediately. So his coach and athletic trainer drove him to see an orthopedic specialist at the University of Pittsburgh, who also served the Pittsburgh Steelers.

But there was no easy fix, apparently.

“He said, 'Son, you can't play this year. I've got to operate on your knee,’ ” Kalkstein recalled.

Desperate to play, the quarterback sought a different route: a chiropractor.

“I went to the chiropractor and I played every game,” Kalkstein said. “I never had surgery.”

Decades later, scores of athletes have been able to say the same thing about Dr. Kalkstein, chiropractor.

If he were to put head shots on his wall of every athlete that he’s worked on, it would resemble a museum more than a practitioner’s office.

In 2018, Kalkstein celebrated 30 years at his Towson-area practice and 11 years as the Orioles’ chiropractor, in that time mending the bodies of NFL players, baseball Hall of Famers, college athletes and Olympians, to name a few. But even before he joined then-partner Dr. Richard Adolph in 1988, famous athletes were already frequenting the Pennsylvania Avenue office.

“When my dad started working there, Johnny Unitas told Dr. Adolph, 'You did good by bringing in Dr. Jeff,’ ” said Kalkstein’s son, Warren.

Like his sons after him, there was no indication that Kalkstein would enter the chiropractic field. After graduating from Navy in 1976, Kalkstein’s near-decade of service landed him in Washington, D.C., where friends regaled him with stories about their lives as chiropractors while drinking Stroh’s beer. Even his brothers Robert, Thomas and William had gone into the business.

While spending his days buying ejection seats for Harrier aircraft, Kalkstein took night school classes to learn life sciences and eventually enrolled in the National College of Chiropractic in Chicago. About a year out of education and freshly married, he scoped out the Mid-Atlantic to settle down and linked up with Dr. Adolph.

“He had been in practice when I joined for about 25 years. I’ve had the chance to care for generations,” Kalkstein said. “I take care of grandparents, their children and their children’s children. That’s really rewarding.”

After the Colts sneaked away in the night, Kalkstein’s football clients became the Canadian Football League’s Baltimore Stallions, whom he treated for two years. So when the NFL did come home, there was no doubt they’d visit him, too.

“I’ll never forget, they had three guys walk through the door. One of them was Orlando Brown, about 6-foot-9, [360] pounds,” Kalkstein said. “He had to turn sideways to get in the door.”

As the practice’s reputation percolated around the Baltimore sports community, the volume of Orioles players still active and retired showing up for care swelled.

But travel from Baltimore to Towson constantly can be arduous, and the team wanted to bring Kalkstein under its wing. Roughly 15 years ago, Kalkstein said, former longtime head athletic trainer Richie Bancells called the chiropractor to spring training in Fort Lauderdale and wouldn’t take no for an answer.

“He’s a good, kind person who wants to do anything he can to help,” Bancells said. “He sort of reminds me of us, athletic trainers. There’s no looking at the clock — ‘Whenever you need me, I’m there.’”

It wouldn’t be long before the Maryland transplant was the ball club’s official chiropractor, with a reputation that spread even down the Camden corridor to the visiting team’s locker room.

Barry Bonds was Kalkstein’s most memorable client of the bunch.

“My practice model has evolved over time, and a lot of that has to do with my relationship with the Orioles,” the chiropractor said, “and taking care of professional athletes because they’re always looking for methods for getting athletes back on the field as fast as they can.”

Just as Kalkstein was there for the Orioles, they were there for him. A few days before Christmas in 2010, a fire ripped through his Pennsylvania Avenue office, burning it to the ground.

“I lost everything,” Kalkstein said.

But he hadn’t. Kalkstein’s staff urged him into the second floor of the old publishing house next door, which the fire had missed. He moved what was left to his garage and routed phone calls to his home office. He gathered supplies from sporting goods stores.

Then he got a call from Bancells and the Orioles. Someone had sent Bancells a video of Kalkstein’s building ablaze, which spurred him to reach out to the team chiropractor.

Standing in his driveway, Kalkstein responded that he didn’t need anything.

“I hung the phone up,” he said, “and said, ‘What did I just do?’ I called him back and said, 'I have nothing.'”

Bancells shipped out tables and physical therapy equipment that the Orioles weren’t going to pack up for Florida until after the holidays. Within two days, Kalkstein was back in business.

“I was just trying to do the right thing for a good person who was always good and loyal to us,” Bancells said.

With time to heal, Kalkstein looks back on the fire as a gift. The old office was beyond capacity for the number of patients coming in.

Even now, Kalkstein’s technology is advancing to the point where even the current space on East Joppa Road is somewhat obsolete. Today, Kalkstein and his sons have picked up services that not every Maryland practitioner can claim: Dry needling, for instance, is much like acupuncture, but rather than poking different points around the body, it’s isolated to a trigger point, say, an ailing lower back.

“The journey has been one of ongoing education,” Kalkstein said.

To practice physical therapy as a chiropractor in Maryland, practitioners need to take extra classes. Warren Kalkstein, like his brother Blake, did, to keep up with their father.

Warren, the most recent addition to the practice, has now begun to delve into baseball work. His face brightens like stadium lights when he hears the name “Adam Jones.”

“Jonesy's a character and a lot of fun to work with,” Warren said. “I got to do some soft tissue work on his hip flexors. He’s making me want to get my hands stronger. He is solid muscle.”

Warren came to the business naturally; as a faceoff specialist for the Towson lacrosse team, he was constantly in his father’s office getting treated. He’d strain his adductor, typically needing four-to-six weeks to heal, and was instead back on the field in a week. Through his father’s advice, he changed the way he lifted to avoid back pain.

He wanted to pass along what had been done for him to someone else.

“To watch them excel, get over an injury faster, that speaks to the athlete in me,” Warren Kalkstein said. “Anything that gave me that competitive edge, I was all about it.”

For Warren, the road to chiropractic was pretty streamlined. He attended Logan University and tended to St. Louis Cardinals and Blues players. Blake’s path, however, was far more muddled.

College, attending class specifically, drew little interest from the older son. Because of his basement GPA, his father pulled him out and plopped him in the office with the attitude, “if you're not going to class, you're going to work,” per Blake.

But for a kid with a penchant for partying, it took a little wizardry from his father to set Blake on course.

“I could see him in the hallway, he was explaining something to a patient about their condition. And he just sounded so confident in the way he was telling them what they should do for aftercare,” Blake said. “That, coupled with the fact I've seen people crawl in and then walk out in the same visit. ... It was kind of like magic.”

Unlike his father and brother, Blake didn’t have the team sports experience with him as he worked on athletes’ bodies. He is, however, a runner, and specializes in readying tired legs for long races.

They aren’t who stands out the most to Blake, though.

“We have a young lady who’s 11 years old, and she has had chronic ankle pain for the last year and a half,” he said. “Couldn't dance anymore, and it was depressing her.”

The issue, Blake said, was that the dancer, Julia, had just been given rest, a boot and crutches after strains. No one had ever addressed the actual strain. The girl came in seven times for three dry-needling sessions, as well as rehabilitation, and was cleared by her orthopedist to go back to dance.

“She’s been all smiles all week,” Blake Kalkstein said.

kfominykh@baltsun.com

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