When you hear the word ‘ergonomics’ the first thing that you may think is ‘sit up straight’. What most of us overlook is, the reason we often do not sit up straight has everything to do with muscle development. Bones do not hold up bones. Not even vertebrae. Muscles hold and keep the bones in position. Without sufficient muscle there is no spinal support and without spinal support there is only poor posture, most commonly seen by hunching, slouching, internally rotated shoulders and eventually….pain.
The spine is supported by a massive amount of musculature that would surprise most people. The back muscles, while large and able to pull a heavy burden are equally as responsible for posture as the core muscles (the 4 different sets of abdominal muscles) that form in layers and travel in different directions specifically for the purpose of holding everything in and up. Don’t mistake that to mean we should just do sit ups all day and not worry about having a strong back. This is especially true for those in the dental field! We need a strong back to counterbalance the way we sit all day, leaning forward often well outside of neutral position. Some specific muscles, like the mid and lower traps, rhomboids, anterior, middle and posterior delts should be actively strengthened as they are chronically used, stretched and held in static positions for long periods of time. Another muscle that is usually overlooked for it’s usefulness is the glute! This is not just a pretty muscle. The glutes, hamstrings and abs work together to hold the hips in proper position to insure that we don’t tilt the pelvis too far forward along with the lower back, increasing the natural curvature of the lumbar section of the spine, creating lower back pain. All of these muscles work together to achieve posture, or how you sit, stand, walk, run, etc.
Okay, so go to the gym and weight train doing the correct exercises and I’m good right? The answer, sadly, is no. What we do at the gym is to prevent injury from the natural consequences of practicing dentistry and to counteract the negative effects of practicing dentistry with poor ergonomics. Build a strong body that can assist with the burden of practicing dentistry with good ergonomics because the nature of the beast that we call dentistry, is without a doubt, a very hard task for even the strongest of foundations.
The rest of what keeps us from pain, apart from a good foundation is consistently practicing good ergonomics. I know, I know we don’t have time for that and it’s just easier (until it’s not) to lean in to see the distal of #2 or #15. Here’s a fun fact. Tilting the head more than 10 degrees forward is the equivalent to putting 63 pounds of pressure on the cervical spine. That’s like 6 bowling balls!! Learning and practicing good good ergonomics is a game changer that will only reinforce that foundation that is built in the gym. There are 4 essentials for creating and maintaining good posture:
- Weight Training to build the foundation
- Stretching Properly to release statically contracted or stressed muscles
- Practicing Ergonomics to prevent injury in the first place
- Demanding what can be achieved from the body. Said differently…don’t work like a dog.
No matter how we spin it, our patients are out of our neutral position. Without good ergonomics and a strong body that enables us to achieve good posture, we have no foundation and are setting ourselves up for pain and early retirement. Dentistry is such an ergonomic nightmare that even the teachers of ergonomics say “let the dental people help themselves”! Well guess what? I am a “dental person” of 20 years and I know our struggles. What’s even better is that I know ergonomics and the body and I’m here to help.