Better Posture, Better Health, Better Practice
By: Neil Wolkodoff, PhD
In the dental profession, you are either standing or sitting at a forward angle during most of your work. It is simply unrealistic to expect this forward, tilting position to be mediated and corrected by sitting properly during the evening. Massage, while a great tool to get tight muscles to relax, will not undo what you practice for seven to nine hours per day.
Poor posture can affect your life outside of work in numerous ways, none of which are positive. First, it can lead to permanent neck, shoulder and back imbalances that may cause bone and muscle changes. Second, it leads to more stress acting upon the shoulders and back, which can influence your disposition. And, just as important, posture speaks about your demeanor and connection to the patient as health care providers. Your posture can imply you are confident, skilled and engaged with the patient.
So, how can you combat poor posture in a profession that requires you to tilt forward? Here are some simple things you can do both at your practice and outside the office to combat this constant tilting ahead.
Tilt Back and Retract
When you break and go to a new patient, or have a break, stand tall and cognitively retract your shoulders back and feel your head directly over your spine for five to ten seconds. If you have time, repeat for two more rounds. Put your elbows at your side and think of rotating your hands backward and pulling with your thumbs. This activates the muscles of the upper back and shoulders, necessary to fight the lousy posture slump. The result is your muscles will start to pull against the tendency to hold the poor posture, and your work won’t affect your overall posture as much. Alternatively, you can stand with back against a wall and retract from the shoulders through the head to the wall for a similar effect. For every patient, balance with a short application of this exercise.
Sit on a FitBall
If you can sit on a FitBall rather than an office chair, you naturally will assume an upright posture which will reduce the tension in your neck and back. The key is finding the right height ball, so your knees are just a little lower than your hips when sitting. Additionally, sitting on the ball will have a strength effect on the core. Limited research has found that in a task like typing, people perform better sitting on a FitBall than using a standing desk or traditional office chair. So, the brain gets a boost as well.
In these long, seated sessions, circulation is lessened from holding a position. Riding a stationary bike at least 20 minutes, twice per week will improve circulation in the legs. The result is you can pump a little more blood in these protracted sessions.
Base of Support
Get your feet evaluated for both how you stand and walk. How you stand affects your posture, as poor foot structure will change spinal, shoulder and neck orientation and tilt. The same is true for walking or gait. An evaluation can determine if your combination between feet and shoes fits what you need to be in a neutral posture from the ground up. And, the right combination will reduce your energy expenditure overall, so you feel less fatigued at the end of the day.
Just like a suspension bridge, your muscles form the basis of how the upper back, shoulders, and neck finally come to rest. If you don’t lift weights, start. And work with a medical fitness professional to find the exercises that will help counterbalance your posture in the back up to the head. A simple rule of thumb is to perform five sets of pull exercises for every two sets of push exercises as you are essential pushing forward in your dental work profession.
Neil E. Wolkodoff, PhD, is the Medical Program Director of the Colorado Center for Health and Sport Science, a medical physiology intervention practice in Denver, CO.
The Metro Denver Dental Society is a not-for-profit component society of the American Dental Association and the Colorado Dental Association.