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RELUCTANT NOVICE

Straight Answers on Posture : A six-footer who slouches sets nervousness aside and finds that a chiropractor is someone he can trust.

June 02, 1995|JOHN M. GLIONNA | TIMES STAFF WRITER

So, my chiropractor's first little gem of insight wasn't about my muscles, my spine or my joints. In fact, it wasn't about my body at all.

He told me I was wearing my wallet wrong.

Yeah, you know, that fat piece of leather where I hide all my one-dollar bills. I was wearing it in my back pocket, sitting on it all day long, like placing one cheek on a James Michener novel for eight hours straight. And it was throwing my posture off.

That was just the first problem with my posture, which is sort of like the winding road in one of those European car commercials. Sometimes I feel like one redheaded, gawky-looking, six-foot-tall letter S.

That's why I went to see Ron Marinaro at the Pain Relief Center in Studio City.

To be honest, I was curious about just what a chiropractor did behind those closed doors, especially after learning that federal health officials last year endorsed chiropractic care for acute lower back pain.

After all these years of hearing my doctor rail against chiropractors, saying they were nothing but West Coast witch doctors, quacks with stretch racks, I decided to give one a try.

I was nervous when I walked into the office one recent Friday morning. After all, this was a pain center. I wasn't in any pain; my posture is just painful to look at, is all.

On the wall were artistic renderings of athletic-looking figures with that red explosion emanating from their lower back and joints. I wanted to kick myself. Geez, if I had just stood up straight when I was a kid, I wouldn't be in this fix.

My posture problem is chronic. When I was in ninth grade, you see, I grew an entire 12 inches. My mom couldn't keep me in clothes. My pants were always high-water. Strangers on the street suddenly began asking if I played basketball.

I started to hate my body. I was too damned tall. I dwarfed my friends. I was shut out of conversations, which always took place below my neck. So, I did what any other non-self-respecting 14-year-old would do: I slouched.

"Stand up straight!" my mother would scold. "You look like a question mark!"

My older sister dated a star high school basketball player who said that if I didn't start standing up straight, I would remain a virgin my entire life. He was wrong.

In college, one of my best buddies was 6-foot-8 and I finally discovered the joy of tallness. We bounded across campus, taking huge strides, leaving the little short guys behind, gasping for breath. Finally, I was proud of being tall!

But it was too late: I was an addicted sloucher.

Ron Marinaro gave me a nanosecond once-over and clucked his tongue: "Oh, I see the problem here." His office examination room had a table that looked like it could move if you pressed the right buttons.

Suddenly, I began to sweat. I remembered my only other image of a chiropractor, that one in the movie "Jacob's Ladder," where this mad-dog manipulator cracks his patient with such ferocity you could actually feel the violence from your couch, your beer can clenched tightly in your hand.

"Have a seat on the rack," Ron told me. Ron is a muscular guy who lived five years in Sicily. His father is a chiropractor in Rome. Ron was well-dressed in an open-shirted kind of way, the sort of man you might see drinking a cup of cappuccino, or working as a stand-in if they remade "Saturday Night Fever" with an all-Italian cast.

I took a seat.

Twenty minutes later, I felt great. Ron stretched my spine with his movable examination table. He told me those cracking noises I heard weren't the sound of my bones rubbing together but the release of air pockets formed by stress.

Then Ron showed me some exercises I could do at home and at the gym to help correct my spine, a job he said I could perform myself if I worked at it. That made me like Ron a whole lot better. Trust him, too.

I mean, imagine your overpaid family physician saying you could heal yourself if you worked hard enough at it. Hardly.

As I left, Ron reminded me that there was hope for me yet, that I didn't have to spend the rest of my life as a question mark. With a little work, he said, I too could be an exclamation point.

My chiropractor. He cracks me up.

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