Low back pain is one of the most common musculoskeletal complaints in the world. Dental professionals are particularly prone to back pain as their posture is compromised throughout the day. Studies have shown over 90% of dentists deliver care in positions which can contribute to back pain. Sitting in awkward and uncomfortable positions for extended periods or just repeating the same posture over and over increases risk of injury to sensitive structures.
The mechanisms which result in generalized back pain and poor posturing are numerous and varied. That is because every body is different and everybody practices differently. This can make finding a solution to your specific back pain problematic.
There are common practices that have dominated dentistry which have been shown to contribute to low back pain. For example, sitting in your dental chair with your hips, knees and ankles all at 90 degrees. At some point, someone decided this was the most efficient way to deliver care while sitting and this idea has rooted itself into training programs and dental practices.
If you have been diligently trying to maintain this difficult position of hips knees and ankles, then you have been exposing your back to unnecessary stress and discomfort. Making small changes to this posturing can help to lessen the effects experienced by your spine during and after prolonged treatments.
Here is a simple experiment for you to try:
Find a firm or semi firm chair. Your favorite recliner is not the best surface, even though I am sure it is the most comfortable!
Sit at the edge of the chair and drop your knees slightly towards the floor creating a 100-110 degree angle at the hips. What is happening to your low back? Did you notice you sat a little straighter and created a nice little curve in your low back. That curve, or lordosis, is a natural stress absorbing mechanism. It distributes the forces evenly throughout the spine.
Now sit back in the chair until your hips and knees approximate 90 degrees. What happened to your lordosis? Gone, right? As the pelvis tilts back, it straightens the spine, which reduces the lordosis.
The 90 degree position of the hips decreases the natural ability of the spine to properly distribute the forces you experience from sitting. Those forces don’t just disappear, they have to go somewhere, but where? When the curve of the spine has been neutralized, the forces are directed to the supporting structures, or muscles, ligaments and tendons. The lumbar musculature is overworked to stabilize the spine in this abnormal position while the abdominal musculature is underutilized. Being over and under worked both lead to the same result: weakness. If you are curious about how strong your own lower back is, refer to this earlier blog. As muscle groups perform tasks for which they are not equipped or designed, they begin to ache and cause pain.
Dental practitioners experiencing back pain should feel free to experiment a little with sitting/standing positions to find your optimal position. Working with your body’s natural features to absorb stress and protect itself will yield better results than trying to force it into an uncomfortable position for prolonged periods of time.
There is nothing so debilitating as chronic back pain. It will not simply go away. You must take action in your life and practice to ensure that you are protecting yourself so that you may a long and productive career. Simple strategies such as this can help.
Be Healthy and Practice Safely!
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