Content Dam Diq Online Articles 2017 09 Sept De Thumb

The one exercise all dentists need to do

Sept. 7, 2017
Eric Strouse, DMD, explains why all dentists need to do the superman exercise to reduce and prevent the pain that comes from the wear-and-tear of dentistry.

If you are a dentist reading this article, you have likely experienced back pain at some point in your career. My eyes were opened to this during my very first year of dental school. In the sim lab, I practiced countless Class II preps, trying to achieve that perfect proximal box. Indirect vision is difficult, and I discovered that I was torquing myself into every position imaginable to get the best possible visualization. Soon, I found my back flaring up with soreness. As a 23-year-old dental student, this was somewhat unnerving. I had no idea that dentistry would be such a physically demanding profession. Would I be doomed to a career full of back pain?

Back pain has been well documented as a major issue among dentists.1 Whether you are finishing your first year of preclinical laboratory or have been practicing for 30-plus years, you have probably dealt with back pain at some point in your career. Given the unique stresses of dentistry—which include prolonged muscle contraction, postural asymmetry, and mental stress, among other things—back pain is often seen as an occupational hazard.

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%.2 Another study in the Journal of Physical Therapy Sciences examining self-reported back pain among dentists found a prevalence of 70%.3 These reports are probably no surprise to you.

So what can be done? Many products aimed at postural health are now available. From loupes to specially designed ergonomic chairs, we have a litany of options. But what if there was one exercise you could perform, requiring nothing other than your own body and a few spare minutes? After my unfortunate experience early in dental school, I began to ponder what could be done about my back pain. Thinking back to my career competing in track and field, I zeroed in on a simple exercise for the core that gave my teammates and me excellent results.

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 us to stabilize our bodies. By strengthening these muscles, it will allow us 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.

Steps No. 1 and 2 of the exercise are demonstrated, respectively.

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.

Eric Strouse, DMD, is a dental resident at Sacred Heart Hospital in Allentown, Pennsylvania, and a graduate of the University of Connecticut School of Dental Medicine. He was a varsity track and field athlete at Muhlenberg College and is a lifetime fitness enthusiast. He can be reached at [email protected] or (203) 278-2218.

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