The Nine Essentials of Health #6: Proper Posture

Straighten your spine, chin forward, tuck in, roll shoulders back and drop them, unlock your knees, point big toes forward, and breathe from your belly — not your shoulders.

“Never name the well from which you will not drink.” It is a line from the fantasy classic, The Mists of Avalon by Marion Zimmer Bradley.  I believe Merlin was saying it to Morgan Le Fay, but I can’t find my copy at the moment to clarify and Google isn’t helping me.

Anyway, it isn’t who said it that is of particular interest to me at the moment; it is the meaning.  I take it to mean the same thing as “never say ‘Never.’”  It’s like challenging the Universe.  When you profess to live by a certain code, the Universe will make certain you live or die by your word.   As a chiropractor and health advisor, I have made it my life to advise people to live their lives a certain way – the Healthy Way.  I also have a particular adversity to hypocrisy, so when I do not live up to the standards I set for others, I suffer the consequences about three times as badly as others might who don’t care about living the life that they profess others should live.

With this in mind, I am loathe to report that, at the moment, I feel as if I swallowed an ice pick sideways and that it is stuck in my esophagus.  I feel as if someone made a dolly likeness of me and ran its left shoulder through with a knife.  I feel as if there is a spiky tennis ball in the region of my left breast that is stuck behind my sternum or in my left lung as I move.

None of these harrowing metaphors are real, of course.  What is happening in reality is that my left rib, Rib 3 to be precise, has rotated downward and is impinging on the intercostal nerve that lives between Ribs 3 and 4. Consequently, muscles in the area (most definitively, serratus posterior superior) are spasming like a m****r f****r and setting off trigger points that are causing crazy pain around my lung and heart and close to the nerve supply that innervates my left side, underarm, the length of my arm, and my left pinky — like so…

…except I’m a girl…

So I’m finding it difficult to breathe, my heart feels inflamed, and my left arm is weak.  If I were anyone else, I’d be in the emergency room thinking I was having a heart attack.  My husband indeed was frightened I was having a heart attack or a stroke. I had to let him listen to my heart and ask me questions like, “What’s your name?  What day is this?  Where are you?” before he agreed not to take me to the hospital.  Had I not answered correctly, I would have had thousands of dollars in tests done, two overnight stays, only go home with a prescription for Percocet after the medical doctors found nothing.

But I know better, and Rib 3 is rotated inferior on Rib 4, because my spine went just enough out of alignment to rotate the vertebrae to which Rib 3 attaches, Thoracic 3 (T3), inferior left.  This in turn twists the rib just enough to impinge on the nerve supply, which in turn chokes the nerves that supply the surrounding musculature, and consequently makes my life a living hell.

Why?  Because I’ve not been practicing what I preach. I’ve been hanging on my laptop writing for hours on end, my arms too high for my seat, without moving around and stretching every half hour.  I got wrapped up in my work and didn’t work out because “I didn’t have time.”  I leaned forward and slumped in my seat for hours.  I got up only when my stomach and bladder complained loud enough to tear me away for a few moments.

I’ve not been paying attention to my side-posture adjustment maneuver at work either. I was taught by the best to pay close attention to the position of my shoulder when I adjust, because I’d be out of a career if I didn’t.  Lately, I’ve been getting ambitiously sloppy.

Also, I’ve been dragging my office with me in my backpack as I travel around anywhere that the MTA can take me.  My backpack is too full for my frame and the straps are not even.  I didn’t stretch before and after I wore it, either.

So, just before bed on Monday, I was cleaning the cookies from my computer and I felt it start – that hideous, involuntary twisting of my musculature just underneath my scapulae.  I literally stopped and told it, “No, no, no!”  It didn’t listen.  Too late.

I lifted my left arm and tried to stretch to the right in a last ditch effort to bargain with my body, to avoid the inevitable.

My body was cruel and unyielding.  “No, Claire; you played the Hypocrite.  Your posture has sucked for days, you did nothing to correct it, and now you pay!”

The level of pain an impinged nerve and a muscle spasm can deliver is beyond comprehension unless you experience it.  Ask any mother giving birth naturally.  Even if it’s a tiny muscle, it can cause absolute havoc with your quality of life.  The pain is not only debilitating, it’s exhausting!

After an almost-sleepless night, with my tail tucked squarely between my legs, I limped off to my friend’s chiropractic office for help.  After a very fine adjustment, Dr. Isaac Lichy admonished me that the pain wouldn’t go away right away, that healing takes time.  I’d also need to come back three times a week for a few weeks until my body was back to normal. Meanwhile, drink plenty of water, take anti-inflammatory enzymes, ice the area and after a few days, apply wet heat…etc…etc…etc…the usual spiel I tell my patients…humiliating but appropriate.

Doctors are the worst patients, they say.  *sigh.* But this stupid episode marks a perfect introduction to The Nine Essentials of Health — #6: Proper Posture


Tuck in your chin. Roll your shoulders back.  Now drop your shoulders. Point your big toes forward. Unlock your knees. Your spine is as aligned as you can get it.  If you’re wearing a back pack, make sure it is appropriate for your height and weight, has great waist support as well as shoulder support, and not full of extraneous stuff.

Don’t give up.  Pretend you are Superman.  Or Wonder Woman.

Maybe not so much Superman here…but Wonder Woman is doing it right.

You may feel awkward at first.  You are not used to standing with proper posture.  You feel pretentious. You feel like you look foolish.  You don’t.  You looked foolish before.  Now you look strong and solid.  You look confident and sexy.  And when you allow yourself, you feel confident and sexy too, don’t you?


Sit straight.  Uncross your legs.  Lift your chest. Put your feet on the floor.  Make sure your knees are at right angles, over your ankles.  Roll your shoulders back.  Now drop your shoulders.  Rest your hands high on your thighs. Again, Your spine is as aligned as you can get it.

Don’t give up.  Don’t slump.  And get up and move around every ½ hour or so.  We were never built for sitting long-term.

Pretend you are important.  Pretend a lot of people depend on your strong form and your Great Work.  Pretend that every turn of your keyboard, your pen, your knife, your hammer, or your steering wheel, is one more step toward saving the world.  You know what?  If you will it, it is!

J. Adam Wilson


Take your time.  Small manageable boxes are preferable to large unwieldy ones.  Hold the heavy part close to your body.  Your biggest muscles, besides your heart and your tongue, are your leg muscles.  Use your legs.

As you lift, clench your pelvic bowl like you have to go to the bathroom. This will help stabilize and strengthen your low back. This exercise is inspired by a Dr. named Kegel.

I’ll be doing a post on Kegel exercises soon.


Straight forward lean, tucked-in chin, foot fall fluid – don’t stomp!  Be like water.

Pretend you are Ethan Hunt running through Shanghai in Mission Impossible III.


If you’re going to do something dirty, embrace the dirt!  Get in there knees first. Kneel with your back straight.  Don’t lean.  Bring the dirty goodie to you.

Pretend you’re six.


Sleep on your back and sides. Make sure your neck and back are comfortably supported and in alignment. A pillow between your legs or behind your knees help take pressure off your low back.  Lower pillow height is preferable to a stack of pillows under your head.  Your mattress should be not too hard, not too soft.

Pretend you are Goldilocks.


Take your time.  Opt for many light loads instead of a few heavy ones hoping you’ll save time.  Keep even.  Switch hand position and sides often.  Drink lots of water.  Again: use your legs to push off! Use your whole body.  Don’t twist and throw off-balance.

Pretend you’re a chiropractor.

My friend Dr. Jennifer Falcone

Good posture in everything you do is day-to-day healthy upkeep for not just your spine, but your knees, shoulders, elbows, feet, hips, wrists, and every other joint in your body.  If you are good to your body from day to day, it will be your faithful and pain-free vehicle in which you live your fabulous life. If you take it for granted and get sloppy and lazy, your ability to function will shorten and diminish much more quickly than you ever anticipated.  And when your body sounds the alarm that you are moving awkwardly towards the point of no return, you will most definitely know it!  The pain feels like the end of the world!  Don’t ignore it with pain killers.  Do something about it (I mean, get to your friendly neighborhood chiropractor and other trusted bodyworkers) and get back on track!

If the instructions in this blog seem impossible for you just out of sheer incomprehension, please set up an appointment with a good chiropractor (me, for instance,) and she or he will help very nicely!  By the by, a massage therapist friend of mine, Selina Rifkin, reminded me that there is a great organization called Feldenkrais that teaches people how to “be” in their bodies.  Here’s that  link:

All right; I’m off to Dr. Lichy’s office again. Catch you next time!

Next time: The Nine Essentials of Health #7: Brush and Floss

Truthtime question: Are you sitting up right now?


About Dr. Claire

CLAIRE FITZPATRICK is a Doctor of Chiropractic in New York City. Her specialty is helping women and men aged 30-55 eliminate signs and symptoms of early aging. She is owner of JOY! Health and Bodyworks, LLC a holistic, integrative network of holistic practitioners who specialize in health issues related to early aging. She is the author of the ebook, "The Nine Essentials of Health: A Must Have Guide for Healthy Living."

Posted on 12/26/2012, in Uncategorized and tagged , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. Leave a comment.

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