Dentists often have to stand or sit at awkwardly twisted angles when they are performing dental procedures in your mouth, so that they can visualize the problem clearly and solve it accurately. If you are a dentist you must have definitely become familiar with back pain at some point in your practice. Even dental students encounter back pain during dental lab and practicing, because torquing oneself makes it easier to achieve direct visualization when creating cavity preps etc. Before you know it, that soreness flares up your back.
Most dentists do not realize that dentistry is in fact, a very physically demanding profession. Back pain has been documented as a major issue among dentists. Considering the particular stresses involved in dentistry, such as prolonged muscular contraction, muscular contraction, postural asymmetry, and mental stress, among other problems, its hardly surprising that back pain is considered an occupational hazard of dentistry. Does this mean that you as a dentist will have to put up with a sore and aching back for the rest of your life?
Several studies have investigated the prevalence of back pain in dentists. A systematic review from the International Journal of Dental Hygiene showed the prevalence of back pain among dentists and hygienists to be between 36% and 60%. Another study in the Journal of Physical Therapy Sciences examining self-reported back pain among dentists found a prevalence of 70%. These reports are probably no surprise either.
So what can be done? Many products aimed at postural health are now available. From loupes to specially designed ergonomic chairs, there are numerous options.
But what if there was one exercise you could perform, requiring nothing other than your own body and a few spare minutes?
The superman exercise builds significant strength and stability for the spine, helping prevent and reduce back pain. The exercise primarily targets the erector spinae, the three long muscles surrounding the spine that help extend, flex, and rotate the spine and neck. Even better, the superman exercise strengthens various synergist and stabilizing muscles, such as the hamstrings, glutes, deltoids, and trapezii. Like a post and core stabilize a crown, the spine and the erector spinae muscles allow you to stabilize your body. By strengthening these muscles, it will allow dentists to better handle the wear and tear that comes with practicing dentistry.
Step No. 1: Lie prone on the floor or an exercise mat with your arms and legs extended.
Step No. 2: Using the muscles of your back, simultaneously raise your arms, legs, and chest off the floor, holding the contraction at the top for one full second. Note: Squeeze your lower back for optimal results, exhaling at the top of the movement. In this position, you should look like a superhero flying.
Step No. 3: Slowly lower your arms, legs, and chest to the starting position while inhaling.
Step No. 4: Repeat for 15–20 repetitions in three sets. The exercise can be modified by using one arm and leg at a time. Elevate the right arm and left leg simultaneously while focusing on achieving maximum extension, stretching at your fingers and toes. Repeat on the opposite side.
Physical health cannot be discounted in any career, and dentistry is no exception. Just as disciplined home care and biannual checkups are preventive for dental disease, the superman exercise can be preventive for back pain when combined with a balanced diet and exercise plan. While this exercise might not turn you into a superhero, a few mindful minutes spent performing it as part of your daily routine can help lead you to a pain-free and productive career.
By Eric Strouse, DMD