When asked to name a physically demanding job, most people would think of something like landscaping, firefighting or construction — ‘tough’ roles that involve a lot of lifting and exercise. Dentists and dental hygienists rarely come to mind.
But it’s no secret that repetitive movement and awkward posture can be just as hard on your body as manual labour. And, in fact, dental professionals are prone to serious musculoskeletal problems.
Among dental professionals, chronic pain in the lower back, neck, hip, shoulder, and wrist is all too common a problem. These issues have spawned troubling statistics around the industry: particularly that 30% of dental workers' compensation injuries stem from musculoskeletal conditions.
This is why dentists should follow proper ergonomic practices and take preventative measures. Whether through ergonomic instruments, well-timed breaks, or exercise, you must be proactive about maintaining your musculoskeletal health and functionality.
These efforts will help ensure your career’s longevity and your overall well-being.
How 3 Simple, Easy Exercises Can Help Dental Professionals Stay Healthy
Imagine you were a rower – which requires immense back strength – but you spent all your time building your calves. It wouldn’t make much sense, would it?
Functionality is critical in every exercise you do. You need to focus on the most prone to injury areas so you can build the stability that keeps fatigue at bay.
As a dental professional, stretching and strengthening your chest, front shoulders, and hip flexors (with daily foam rolling, if possible) can go a long way in preventing musculoskeletal pain and strain. These simple, easy movements will help build a solid foundation for your career.
1. Stretching Your Hip Flexors (Psoas)
Your psoas (hip flexor) is likely chronically tight due to all the leaning and sitting you must perform. When these muscles tighten or shorten, it pulls the lumbar spine inward, causing lower back pain after a workday.
Bending backward, use your hands to push your hips forward with the hands.
Alternatively, start from a plank position on the floor. Push through your palms with a forward-facing chest. And push the top of your feet to the ground (this movement is known as “upward-facing dog.”)
2. Stretching Your Chest
Hunching forward all day causes tightness and shortness in the sternum, ribs, clavicle and shoulder blade.) If these areas are neglected, you can develop rolled shoulders and a hunched back. Additionally, you’ll be vulnerable to nerve impingement, constricted circulation, and muscular atrophy.
The corner pec stretch is a valuable movement that staves off these adverse outcomes.
Here's how to do it:
- Place your forearms and palms on either side of the wall at shoulder level (or as close as your flexibility allows), then inhale.
- After exhaling, pull your lower abdominals into your spine.
- Lean toward the wall.
- Hold the position for between 5 and 30 seconds, then come back to the starting position.
This stretch shouldn’t be exhausting—only moderately challenging and without pain or discomfort. Don’t push it!
3. Strengthening Your Front Shoulders and Overall Posture
Strengthening your posture muscles through resistance training will increase your endurance and reduce pain.
Rows are a highly effective workout for every dental profession because they strengthen the mid back, shoulders, glutes and core at once. They should be part of every dental professional’s workout! While there are many variations to this movement, here’s a video that breaks down a version of the row that only requires your body weight.
It’s Time to Prioritize Your Physical Health
Dental professionals must maintain good physical and musculoskeletal health. If you start early, you can build a foundation that prevents discomfort and degenerative pain in the long run. And don’t hesitate to consult your doctor or a physical therapist before taking on a new workout routine!