When it comes to work related pain, we tend to forget the contributing factors that are not work related. There are ways that we can be exacerbating pain at work of which we are unaware. Below is a description of some everyday activities that may be intensifying pain that you experience at work.
Prolonged positioning is not relegated to dental postures. In fact, when the body is forced to stay in any position for long periods of time, physiological consequences occur and the body will begin to send signals to the brain demanding a change of position. For more on this process click here.
Spending hours in the driver’s seat requires the body to be in static state for long periods of time which can decrease circulation to the spinal musculature and lower extremities. Since increased circulation is required to heal tissue that may have been damaged throughout your day of dentistry, it is easy to appreciate how long (especially stressful) drives may actually contribute to musculoskeletal pain.
Using a Computer
As electronic documentation is now a requirement in healthcare, workers are spending more time in front of computer screens. Use of computers may ease some of the burden of organizing our documentation, however, it has significant negative impacts on our health.
As with the driving, any prolonged positioning will eventually create tissue damage and pain. Unfortunately, with computer usage, the body is often even more compromised than with driving. Poor computer station set up at work can certainly contribute to any pain that is experienced. Here is a link to help you learn what an ergonomically sound computer station may look like for you.
But computers are not just found in our working environment. Indeed, they are part of our lives. We stream videos, communicate with long lost friends, edit pictures, take classes, and even write fascinating blogs with a few strokes of the keys. The body is mostly static, again, reducing the flow of vital nutrients to the areas that need it the most.
Minimizing time on the computer at home gives your body time to recover and lets the healing process begin. I always recommend my patients use a timer in order to accomplish this. The seduction of the screen can be difficult to escape. A timer reminds you just how much screen time you have had. A 10-15 minute break every 45 minutes will do wonders.
Recently, this article brought to light a phenomenon that every smart phone and tablet user should know. It is a warning about the rise of spinal musculature pain due to cell phone usage. I am certain by now that you can guess the mechanism by which pain is caused, but it bears repeating.
Prolonged unnatural postural positioning is placing abnormal stresses on your body. This positioning is benign when held momentarily, after all, our necks are supposed to move that way. Yet, if you are suffering from pain while you are working, maintaining this awkward positioning will futher compromise spinal alignment.
What the article fails to mention is another problem that has come to the forefront about cell phone and tablet usage, which is premature osteoarthritis of the small joints of the hand. That bit of information is essential for dental professionals to consider, as precise and pain free control of the hand is your livelihood.
So, do we stop texting or using our tablets? Ideally, yes! But that is not going to happen, so let’s consider the alternatives.
*Hold your phone straight out in front of you. The goal is to decrease the amount of forward bend in the neck.
*Activate your abdomen when using the phone. This act alone will improve your posture.
*Alternate finger usage to scroll or control your phone. Not using the same finger all the time to diminish the damage done to one finger.
*Limit time. Don’t type long emails or read books on your device. Save that for when you are able to position yourself properly in front of a computer.
Muscles need proper fuel to work at optimal levels. Top athletes understand how integral the relationship between nutrition and muscle performance is. They spend much of their lives learning about good nutrition and benefit greatly from it.
Although it is probably not your goal at this point in life to win an Olympic medal, the basic principles of good nutrition are just as important for you as they are for top athletes. It is imperative that you feed your body the fuel that it requires for your muscles to perform the demanding tasks of dentistry.
Nutritional needs vary by individuals and it is beyond the scope of this blog to provide detailed descriptions of such. However, I am confident that most of us know how to make healthy choices when it comes to our foods. I am not so confident that there is an appreciation for the immediate consequences of those choices.
Food provides energy. If you skip breakfast, you have decided to begin your day with an energy deficit. That deficit only increases as muscles begin to use a tremendous amount of energy to maintain positions for long periods of time. If there is not adequate nutrition provided to the cells, they are not able to metabolize properly to provide the necessary reactions for energy. Tired cells make up tired muscles. Tired muscles are a major source of pain and dysfunction for dental professionals.
Don’t skip breakfast and make sure that you are taking time to enjoy healthy snacks throughout the day.
Carrying Heavy Purses and Fat Wallets
Last, but certainly not least is a topic that I have found people extremely resistant to change. Women who carry heavy purses or bags on a consistent basis and men who put their wallets in their back pockets.
Ladies first. We know that our purses and bags are really extensions of who we are. We carry everything that everyone MAY need. Tissues, phones, papers, cards, money, everyone’s medical histories, lipsticks, the kitchen sink…..the list is endless. The problem is that we typically carry our purses or bags over the same shoulder. As we do this, we are putting significant amount of stress on sensitive tissues below the surface. Heavy bags can lead to back and neck pain. If you are in the dental profession, you are already stressing these tissues, and carrying extra weight is the best way to make sure that your condition gets worse.
Lighten up. Carry with you only the essentials. By essentials, I mean things that you will be using on that day. I have found the best strategy in which to accomplish this is to make yourself carry a smaller purse/bag.
If you do need to carry a laptop or other heavy bag, make sure you are switching it from side to side. This will give stressed tissue time to recover.
Now, for the men. I’m not sure who started the fad of men carrying their wallets in their back pockets, but you can certainly thank him for being a contributing source of your neck/low back pain. Sitting on a wallet compromises the alignment of your spine and creates muscle imbalances which can ultimately lead to pain. Move the wallet into your front pocket before you sit down. And, like the ladies, you also need to lighten up. Only carry what you need to carry for the day.
New habits are not easy to create. Research has shown that it can take up to 66 days to form a new habit. Understanding the ramifications of not changing these detrimental daily activities is the first step. The next step is the hardest, which is for you to do the work you need to do to provide your body with every advantage to be healthy. When others in your office are complaining about how badly their back hurts and you see a fat wallet in their back pocket, you will be happy that you read this blog and made changes!