Save Yourself the Backache!
After a long day of work, you are probably no stranger to coming home to shoulder, neck, or back soreness. Many dentists tolerate the discomfort, not realizing that it may take up to 10 years for full chronic back and neck pain to materialize. The Institute of Dental Economics found that 75% of dentists and hygienists suffer from musculoskeletal disorders that affect their personal life and work performance, sometimes to the point that they must stop practicing dentistry altogether. About 29% of dentists are forced to retire early as a result of debilitating pain.
Muscle Strain and Back Pain
In an occupation where using advanced technology is part of a daily routine, you may wonder how it is that development in pain prevention for dental professionals has remained stagnant. In fact, due to increased workloads and stress, incidents of dentists suffering from chronic pain have actually become more prominent in the last 20 to 30 years.
Musculoskeletal problems of the arms, lower back, shoulders, neck, and even hands, wrists, and eyes are very common in dentists because of the nature of the work. Gripping small instruments for extended periods of time, using vibrating hand tools, remaining in static, often hunched positions to perform procedures, and prolonged muscle exertion of the craned head all contribute to the development of chronic musculoskeletal pain in dentists.
Many dentists consider their pain an unavoidable “part of the job,” but is doesn’t have to be this way. No matter how many years you have been practicing, or to what degree you already suffer the effects, taking steps now may save you from a serious pain in the back!
- Alternating Positions
When muscles are extended in the same position for too long, it can lead to static muscle fatigue, which will eventually result in chronic pain. Adjusting posture may help reduce this risk. You may also consider alternating between standing and sitting when performing dental procedures. Many dentists are wary when they first hear the suggestion to, for example, stand during a scaling appointment, and then sit during the next bridgework procedure. It does take some getting used to, but if you are able to vary positions and alternate between standing and sitting, your muscles will thank you!
- Comfortable Equipment
Whether standing or sitting, there is a natural tendency to lean over the patient to gain better access and angles. Using dental loupes will help bring the patient’s mouth into clear focus, minimizing leaning and straining for you. Properly fitted dental loupes allow you to sit (or stand!) up straight while working on your patient.
Investing in lighter, ergonomically designed equipment may also make a big difference in comfort and eliminating musculoskeletal problems. Tools that can be used without requiring awkward body posture are best, and what is comfortable differs among individuals. You will not regret taking the time to determine which equipment works best for you. It is also imperative to keep instruments close to your reach during treatment to minimize stretching and grabbing unnaturally for them. Make sure all tools are within 20 inches of your grasp, using assistants to move them into place if necessary.
- Time Management
You are probably not spending more time than necessary performing work on patients, but rushing from one patient to the next without allowing yourself time to rest, stretch and move around can be damaging to your body. Allowing yourself even a few minutes in-between patients can make a big difference to your health.
Also, the more efficient you can be in completing procedures, the less time your body will need to strain to aid you. For longer appointments, try to intersperse a quick rest period to briefly relieve your upper extremities.
- Exercising and Stretching
Exercise and stretching are important measures to take in preventing chronic pain. It may be helpful to consult a physical therapist or trainer to help you determine what works best for you. For example, yoga and Pilates are often beneficial to dentists in that they help elongate your spine. Other exercises, such as abdominal crunches and bench press, may actually further damage your body after a day of work, as they serve to reinforce the same positions you have been working in all day.
Taking steps to prevent chronic pain is much easier than relieving or treating existing problems- the sooner you begin to enact new tactics, the better!
As a dentist your most valuable tool is your body. When experiencing pain or discomfort, you are not able to perform your best, and the entire practice suffers. Do not chalk up your aches to a “consequence of the profession”- begin to change your habits now.