Chiropractor and former punk rocker Ricky Fishman.
Chiropractor and former punk rocker Ricky Fishman.

Q&A: This punk rock chiropractor is here to tell you you’re sitting wrong

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Before becoming a chiropractor in San Francisco, Ricky Fishman followed a lot of twists and turns in his career. First he was a public school teacher. Then he tried law school for a year. He next turned to his passion for music, pursuing a life as a punk rock musician, a period he describes as “great fun.” Finally, in 1986, he decided to go to chiropractic school in Seneca Falls, New York, and left shortly after for California, where he’s been ever since.

But Fishman, 65, never truly left punk rock behind. He’s the founder of the Musicians Chiropractic Project, which offers special rates and treatments for musicians, who are prone to injury from carrying heavy equipment. (Fishman still jams at times on his electric bass.) Over the past year he’s been treating many clients for injuries related to working from home. He grew up in New York City and describes his parents as typical “first-generation New York Jews” who were culturally Jewish but not religious.

J.: Among the millions of people working from home right now, many of them probably are on the couch with their laptops. What’s your professional opinion on that?

Ricky Fishman: If you are working on your couch sitting, basically what’s happening is your back is becoming a big curve. When your back becomes completely curved, then all the muscles of your back start to tighten up in order to bring you above your center of gravity. Because you’re maintaining this posture over a long period of time, your body’s fighting against itself. And so there’s cumulative muscle tension, muscle strain, which then leads to pain.

What are some basic things people can do to prevent work-from-home injuries?

First of all, get off the couch; at least get to a table and desk. If you’re at your kitchen table and you’re working on a laptop, lift your laptop, put a bunch of books [under it] and get a keyboard and a mouse, so that your eyes are even with the top of your screen. I tell people don’t go more than 45 minutes without standing, moving around.

If people are having back or nervous system issues and need an adjustment, what should they look for in a chiropractor?

You want to see a chiropractor who is going to be giving you exercise strategies, giving you the things that you need to do in order to help yourself. There are a few things you want to be really wary of. If a chiropractor wants to take X-rays right away, I would walk away. There are three reasons to take X-rays. One, to rule out a fracture. The second is to rule out a pathology like a bone tumor. And the third is to rule out some sort of anomaly. If you treat a patient for a few weeks and there’s not a significant response, you might want to get more information with an X-ray, but any chiropractor who is going to routinely X-ray you — stay away.

Second warning sign, they want to immediately put you on a schedule. Stay away from that. If I see a patient and I’m treating them based upon what I find during my history, during my examination, how can I possibly schedule that person for two or three months out into the future if I don’t know how they may be responding in the first week or two of my treatment?

Is there any overlap in being a punk musician and a chiropractor?

If you can find something that is a vehicle to put you into the zone where you’re able to sort of transcend your sense of self, then that’s a good thing. And I found that in chiropractic, because it is both a science as well as an art, in many ways it brings me to a similar place of playing music. So I figured if I can have a career, if I can do work that brings me to that place, then I’m happy with the choice.

Gabriel Greschler

Gabriel Greschler was a staff writer at J. from 2019 to 2021.