"The dental professional is in a postural crisis. On a monthly basis, professional dental journals and general population articles focus on the biomechanical problems that cause aches, pains, disorders, and complaints that make life miserable for people who are seated over long periods for their professions. These conditions can affect the receptionist awkwardly cradling the phone in between the ear and shoulder, the hygienist who is often in the same forced position for long periods of time, or the assistant, hygienist, or dentist who have to lean precariously on movable casters. Add emotional and mental stress and the result is often debilitating.
Unfortunately, knowing better doesn't always translate into doing better. You know you shouldn't cramp your neck or shoulder while positioning yourself for hard–to–reach areas. You know you shouldn't lean or twist to reach over for the saliva ejector, keyboard, or view the monitor. But you do these things anyway. You also know you can stretch and relieve tight muscles, but unfortunately you just don't. Despite the availability of ergonomic chairs and work spaces, and the plethora of information on preventive back care, the fact remains that many of us still suffer aching joints and muscles due to awkward and precarious positions.
How is the dental professional really doing?
The only routinely collected national source of information about occupational injuries and illnesses among U.S. workers is the annual survey conducted by the Bureau of Labor Statistics of the U.S. Department of Labor.1
In 2002 (the last year of available data) the Bureau reported approximately 1,436,000 cases of repetitive motion injuries, which led to recuperative days away from work. Of these, 974,000 affected the neck, back, and shoulder. Over 76,000 of the injuries were due to repetitive motion, including typing or key entry, repetitive use of tools, and repetitive placing, grasping, or moving objects that affected the wrist, shoulder, and again, back.
A substantial body of credible epidemiological research provides strong evidence of an association between musculoskeletal disorders and specific physical exposures, especially when the exposures are intense, prolonged, and workers are exposed to several risk factors simultaneously.
Very controlled, forceful, and awkward positions are often overwhelming due to the repetitive nature of tasks and time spent performing them. Add to that the notion of incomplete recovery, or little rest, and it is no wonder that the dental professional endures work–related musculoskeletal disorders.
Knowing that our bodies are being strained, ergonomics specialists have designed more automated workplaces which strive to take the pressure off our bodies. For example, in the 1960s, dentists were trained to sit rather than stand when practicing, to alleviate lower extremity pain. However, sitting brought a whole new set of problems and merely replaced one injured area with another. The bottom line is that, in general, dental professionals are terribly out of balance." (Continued via RDH Magazine, Juli Kagan) [Ergonomics Resources]