Dr. Laura Lajoie loves her community. The Wilsonville-based chiropractor has spent the past two decades serving Wilsonville, including volunteering her time as team doctor for Wilsonville High School sports teams ranging from football to the equestrian team.
"I love my work," Lajoie said. "Almost 25 years in practice and I could hardly imagine doing something else that brings me so much joy."
Lajoie was recently named Chiropractor of the Year by the Oregon Chiropractors Association, not only for service at her practice, Joy of Life Chiropractic, but also the state at large as an activist in Salem.
As a multi-sport athlete growing up and heptathlete at the University of California Riverside, Lajoie was naturally drawn to athletics when she became a practicing chiropractor.
"We live our life through our nervous system. As a chiropractor, I assess not only biomechanical changes within the spine and muscles, but I'm also looking at how the nervous system is functioning," she said. "I can identify an underlying challenge before it becomes pain or an injury because I'm paying attention to the whole person."
Lajoie's work includes advocacy, and today she's part of an effort to restore Oregon chiropractors' ability to clear athletes to return to play following a concussion, an ability that was stripped by a bill passed in the Oregon Legislature three years ago.
Working with Sen. Elizabeth Steiner-Hayward — a sponsor of the bill — Lajoie hopes to educate the Legislature on how skilled and familiar chiropractors are in treating concussions that result from whiplash, worker injuries and slip and fall type accidents on a regular basis.
"I was able to meet (Steiner-Hayward) a couple years ago and help her understand what level of competency we have with concussions," Lajoie said. "She's actually now advocating for us in this bill to return to chiropractors the ability to clear the return to play."
Due to the current law, Lajoie often takes a patient through the entire rehab process in treating a concussion, but can't get closure because she has to refer patients back to another doctor to be cleared. She hopes her work with Steiner-Hayward — giving testimony and attending hearings in Salem — will allow her and other chiropractic professionals to see rehab process all the way through for athletes in giving them the ability to return to play.
Another area of research where Lajoie is leading the charge in is the discrepancy in risk of concussion between boys and girls.
"All of the literature out there shows that girls are three times likely to get a concussion than boys. I've had to dig in and look at 'Why is that?' The biggest 'why' is neck strength," Lajoie said. "Boys start doing a lot of pushups, pullups and weight training earlier than the girls. Girls often have higher level of fitness, but not strength, so it increases their level of risk when it comes to concussion. One of the things I'm working on is developing prevention programs."
That prevention program includes a combination of strength and balance training tailored for young women to improve imbalance in the brain's wiring from head to toe. She aims to use this prevention program to reduce risk of concussion in young female athletes.
"When somebody hits their head on the ground, you cannot stop the impact, but if the neck is stronger you can slow down the speed and intensity of the impact to reduce the severity of the head injury," she said.
Being named Oregon Chiropractor of the Year was a surprise for Lajoie, and she's humbled to be considered one of the state's top professionals in her field.
"I do this work with my community and my state because I'm passionate about it," Lajoie said. "Being recognized for doing something I love so much is such a huge honor."