Back pain is the number one reported health complaints in the entire world. It’s economical impact is staggering. Back pain results in billions of dollars of lost revenue and income, as well as extraordinary medical expenses and severe disability.
It is probably not surprising that back pain is also one of the top complaints of dental professionals. Up to 65% admit to practicing while suffering from back pain. Whether just starting out or a seasoned professional, it is likely that most dental practitioners are experiencing back pain.
Dental practitioners are at unique risk of acquiring this unwanted and often devastating impairment. Poor ergonomic practices combined with reduced proprioceptive awareness and poor strength create an environment perfect for the development of an injury.
While some factors which contribute to back pain not able to be modified, age, gender, anatomical abnormalities, two of the most significant factors are. Posture and muscle imbalances are two primary causes of back pain.
Poor posturing while practicing dentistry is a significant concern in the ergonomic industry. Poor posture reduces the body’s ability to counteract the stresses placed on the spine and supportive structures rendering it vulnerable to injury. Adjusting the environment to support good posture is a necessary step to reducing pain. Without this, pain symptoms may diminish temporarily, but will return soon after a return to work.
Muscle imbalances are the consequences of poor posture. Some muscles, specifically the erector spinae, become elongated after prolonged and repetitive poor posturing. Some muscles, typically the pectoral muscles, become shortened. Whether a muscle is elongated or shortened, it loses its mechanical advantage making normal functioning impossible. In other words, they just aren’t able to perform their primary tasks of supporting the spine and moving the body through its complete range of motion. Muscle imbalances must be identified and corrected with an appropriate program. Muscle balancing programs include strengthening weakened muscles, stretching shortened ones and improve muscle synergies for coordination .
Correcting the physical deficits of muscle imbalances while establishing a protective office environment is a process. It is unlikely most will be successful after taking just one ergonomics course or having a one time assessment. Anatomical changes and deeply rooted habits can make this process difficult.
Changing habits is difficult, but not impossible. Research indicates it takes as long as 66 days to form a new habit. That is over two months of considerable attention dedicated to the formation of a new technique which initially will seem more difficult. As challenging as it may be, this is the only path to practicing dentistry without back pain.
When comparing the cost and inconvenience of not working including lost income, premature retirement, disability, to the challenge of establishing a healthy practice, it may provide incentive to stick with it.
Remember, everyone is unique and may have special needs for their own recovery from back pain. This program is only a foundation. Seeking professional advice is always recommended.