A Look At Workplace Body Mechanics: The Dental Office

The Significance of Proper Body Mechanics at Work

Hanna Kim - March 4, 2019

Why Do Body Mechanics Matter?

Different types of jobs pose different types of musculoskeletal issues for our bodies. Most of us are at our jobs 8 or more hours a day with a fairly routine set of tasks, so it is easy to see how our bodies are affected by the unique tasks we perform. It can be helpful to recognize the movement patterns we use and body positions we are most often in at work to better understand how to take care of our bodies.

We’ve covered some easy stretches and yoga poses that can be done right at your office or cubicle to prevent stiffness and discomfort with a sedentary job. An all-day seated work posture is a common agent of back pain for many office workers. In dental work, practitioners may additionally suffer from postural deviations.

Common Dysfunctional Body Mechanics for Dental Staff

In order to perform dental procedures like a cleaning or cavity removal, a dentist may find herself frequently twisting in one direction to face her patient, which can lead to chronic low back pain. Along with the unilateral twist in her spine, the dentist may often use an exaggerated positioning of her neck and upper body to see inside her patient’s mouth. She may need to keep their elbows elevated for long periods of time in order to work with her dental instruments.

With dental work, practitioners are generally seated to the side of their patient. This positioning is more likely to lead to pain from poor ergonomics than the average office worker who is generally facing forwards. With both desk work and dental work, people find themselves looking down with their neck or upper half of the body in a forward incline.

The Atlantic reported on a new calculation of the force exerted on the spine by the average human head at different angles of incline, which surgeon Kenneth Hansraj found using a computer model. The average adult’s head weighs between 10-14 pounds, which is akin to having a bowling bowl attached on top of our spines according to Jeff Carter, DDS.

Holding our heads upright over our spines is the ideal positioning. The further inclined our neck/upper body is in front of us, the more torque or rotational force acts on our spines, which you can see on Hansraj’s model. Dr. Carter calculated that “maintaining your head position in a full upper body lean or tilt of 30 degrees from the pelvis for 10 minutes requires muscular exertion equivalent to curling a 20-pound dumbbell 266 times or curling a 100-pound barbell 53 times!” This can be easy to forget while performing dental work that requires accurate and intricate gesticulations in areas of the mouth that are hard to see (or simply from getting absorbed into a text conversation for some of us).

These ergonomic factors mean dentists and hygienists are prone to suffering from conditions like trapezius myalgia, which often presents as tension headache behind the practitioner’s eye, temple, and down the side of the neck of their dominant hand. Other symptoms include muscular pain, stiffness, spasms, and tenderness of the upper trapezius that can increase without changes for better self-care and body mechanics.

In a study of dental students’ experience with clinical practice during their final semesters of study, 80% surveyed reported feeling pain due to the ergonomic factors during clinic hours. Similarly, another survey shows 71% of dentists and 82% of hygienists reporting neck pain due to their line of work.

A large majority of students were found to adopt unfavorable postures including exaggerated flexion and torsion of the spine. Meanwhile, only 13% of students did stretching exercises as a self-care measure. Without regular self-care measures, these initial symptoms can get aggravated enough to create permanent damage.

Maintain Longevity in Your Dental Career with Self-Care

These unfavorable postures may not cause a dental worker any issues initially. Sometime during the first year of practice, a practitioner may feel light muscular pain but generally sensations that go away after work. You can prevent long-lasting issues like chronic muscular pain, nerve damage, and arthritis by paying attention to your body mechanics and making self-care a priority. Proper self-care helps dentists stay in their career long term, feel less fatigue and discomfort during the workday, and require fewer sick days due to pain. Here are some ideas to get you started:
  • Sharpen your instruments regularly, as dull tools require more use of pressure and are harder to control. Keep instruments at a distance you can reach them without additional strain.
  • Find a chair that suits your body well. Many also benefit from having their arm weight supported by an armrest to reduce exertion of the upper trapezius and rotator cuff muscles.
  • Use properly selected magnification to help prevent the angle of your head and neck from inclining more than 20 degrees. Sufficient lighting also helps prevent practitioners from having to over-incline for better visibility.
  • Ask patients to adjust to you where they can instead of over-adjusting your own body to compensate.
  • Stretch and strengthen your muscles. Stretch daily after work, and take regular breaks to stretch your hands and arms in between procedures. Practice good posture both in and out of work. Make a mental note to relax your shoulders and change your body position throughout the day.
  • Find ways to de-stress after work. Emotional stress can manifest physically, and the upper trapezius is a common muscle to subconsciously contract when you are stressed.

Bring On-Site Wellness Services with LoDo Chair Massage to Your Dental Office

LoDo Chair Massage is perfect for any workplace, including your dental office. Chair massage can help your dental staff feel their very best at work. In just a short 15-20 minute chair massage, a massage therapist can work on dentists’ and dental hygienists’ trigger points to reduce tension and pain in the neck, upper back, hands, and arms. Providing chair massage at work is a fantastic way to show your dental staff you care! Ask us about how you can save on our chair massage packages.

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