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My View: Inside-out ergonomics

November 07, 2016

By Jeff Huston, D.D.S.

Photo of Dr. Jeff Huston
Jeff Huston, D.D.S.
Dentists are sitting ducks,” says my neighbor Steve. “For over 40 years I’ve been a disability insurance agent. You’re all super high risk. Your arms gotta work, your legs gotta work, back, shoulder, neck – everything in your bodies has to function properly.”

We often slouch while reading, writing or typing patient records. Even when not at the office, many digital age devices tempt most to unknowingly lean forward as we gaze into them. The unrelenting state of tension caused by forward head carriage, also known as text neck, quickly fatigues and weakens thousands of small spinal erector muscles as well as many others.

Unbalanced human heads grossly overload backbones and distort the spine’s three natural curves. Subsequently, misaligned vertebral discs pinch down on the nerves and vessels emanating through and from them. Worldwide gravity squashes down on us, further exacerbating the negative results of catawampus skeletons.

Anchored to our chairs, we repeatedly stay in prolonged awkward positions. Completing thorough examinations and minute surgical procedures inside small dark orifices necessitates positioning our skulls, spines, hip and sacroiliac joints off-kilter. Many times throughout our workday, we literally must hold perfectly still, while twisted and bent over. Even if straight, it is unhealthy to sit or stand for long periods of time. We must fight stagnation.

Oral health providers get up and down constantly. Many of us just plop down on chairs. To stand, we shift our head weight forward to propel us up. Let’s figure out proper squatting and rising techniques and quit coveting grandma’s electric lift lounger that ejects people effortlessly up and out.

Dentistry demands daily deleterious static and dynamic postures from us. Prudent young practitioners proactively counteract them before they take their toll. Learning and routinely applying healthy biomechanics and movement patterns help avoid needing external ergonomic contraptions.

Harmful consequences of the above mentioned pernicious micro-traumas compound cumulatively. Ultimately, they lead to a variety of unhealthy physiological adaptations, decreased oxygenation, painful musculoskeletal dysfunctions and bone degeneration.

Dr. Stuart McGill in “Back Mechanic” describes non-negotiable “Big 3” daily back exercises. Yes, non-negotiable means we must do them every single day. Dr. Eric Goodman’s “True to Form” teaches how to decompress our spines and entire bodies. View his “30-day Founder Challenge” and the “Big 3” on YouTube. For the science backing up these suggestions and of definite interest to those treating TMJ disorder, checkout Dr. Thomas Myers’ “Anatomy Trains.” It explains fascinating new fascia research and how to increase the flow of vital fluids and neurochemical transmissions.

Please try out the three quick and easily applicable key moves for unlocking oral health providers’ tight upper bodies. Access the “The Quick 3” demonstration on YouTube. Washing hands serves as a trigger to remind us to do them. Hopefully, habitual use will counteract some of the yucky side effects brought on by sitting or standing frozen at the dental chair.

The inside-out ergonomics approach briefly described reactivates dormant skeletal support muscles. Don’t be a sitting duck for disability. Keep moving!

The Quick 3

1. Roll shoulders  
While taking off gloves, tuck in tailbone and tighten tummy. Roll shoulders backwards three times. Keep pelvic tilt neutral and abdominal muscles engaged for next steps.

2. Breathe big
While washing hands, tuck chin back lengthening nape of neck. Inhale deeply through nose focusing on expanding the upper back. Pull belly-button closer to spine on each exhale. Three times: big, bigger, biggest breaths. Shoulders stay relaxed. Air alone lifts front and back ribs equally higher and higher.

3. Flap arms
Stand tall with chin back and ribcage still up from last step number two. Extend arms out to the side like clock arms at 3:00 and 9:00, flap them three times to 1:00 and 11:00, breath in, up, out and down. Please do not attempt these exercises if you are not fit.

This editorial, reprinted with permission, first appeared in the September/October 2016 issue of the Delta Sierra Digest, the publication of the San Joaquin Dental Society. Dr. Huston is a pediatric dentist in Lodi, California, and recently obtained Foundation Training certification as a posture and movement instructor.