As a result of spending most of their day leaning over patients, lack of correct sitting posture, and core strength, it’s easy to understand why dentists (and chairside staff) have posture problems and chronic lower back pain. But take heart, you’re not alone, lower back pain is among the top job related disabilities claimed in the United States.
The problem, more often than not, is that the symptoms of chronic lower back pain are treated rather than the real problem itself. To truly understand this chronic pain, it’s important to look above and below the lower back.
Our body is a stack of joints, each joint provides either mobility or stability, in regard to overall body movement. When your joints are functioning properly, the result is efficient movement and a healthy body. But when a joint isn’t performing its function properly, another joint is forced to compensate for the under-performing joint. The compensation most often occurs directly above and/or below the joint that isn’t functioning properly. As a result, in many cases, this also leads to pain or injury in the compensating joint(s).
- The lumbar spine’s main joint function is stability. It’s comprised of 5 vertebrae that are significantly bigger than the others in the vertebral column, they’re NOT built for flexing, extending, or rotating. Any sort of core training that you perform should be focused on stabilization instead of movement.
- The thoracic spine and hips are designed for mobility. The 12 vertebrae of the thoracic spine, located above the lumbar spine, attach to the rib cage and are smaller and are capable of more movement than the lumbar spine.
- The ball and socket of the hip joint is located below the lumbar spine and has a great capacity for multi-directional movement.
When the hips and thoracic spine don’t move well, the lumbar spine compensates and moves instead, which leads to pain and/or injury.
What’s the best way achieve a healthier pain-free back? Improve your hip and thoracic spine mobility, while performing core strength training to stabilize the lumbar spine.
Correct Sitting Position — According to the Cleveland Clinic, correct sitting position includes all of the following:
- Sit up with your back straight and your shoulders back. Your buttocks should touch the back of your chair.
- All three normal back curves should be present while sitting. A small, rolled-up towel or a lumbar roll can be used to help you maintain the normal curves in your back.
Here’s how to find a good sitting position when you’re not using a back support or lumbar roll:
- Sit at the end of your chair and slouch completely.
- Draw yourself up and accentuate the curve of your back as far as possible. Hold for a few seconds.
- Release the position slightly (about 10 degrees). This is a good sitting posture.
- Distribute your body weight evenly on both hips.
- Bend your knees at a right angle; Keep your knees even with or slightly higher than your hips (use a foot rest or stool if necessary); Your legs should not be crossed.
- Keep your feet flat on the floor.
- Try to avoid sitting in the same position for more than 30 minutes.
- At work, adjust your chair height and work station so you can sit up close to your work and tilt it up at you. Rest your elbows and arms on your chair or desk, keeping your shoulders relaxed.
- When sitting in a chair that rolls and pivots, don’t twist at the waist while sitting. Instead, turn your whole body.
- When standing up from the sitting position, move to the front of the seat of your chair. Stand up by straightening your legs. Avoid bending forward at your waist. Immediately stretch your back by doing 10 standing back-bends.
Improve Your Abdominal Strength — According to About.com’s Sports Medicine, “getting great abs takes more than just ab exercises; you’ll need proper nutrition and a well-balanced exercise routine to go with these ab-focused exercises.”
Perform several (3-5) abdominal exercises 3-5 times a week. Start with exercises and repetitions that are comfortable for your fitness level and as you improve increase the number of repetitions. You do not need to do all the exercises; simply select those that work well for you and vary your routine.
- Bicycle Crunch Exercise
- Captain’s Chair Exercise
- Ab Crunch on an Exercise Ball
- Vertical Leg Crunch
- Long Arm Crunch
- Reverse Crunch
- Plank (Hover) Exercise
- Traditional (Basic) Abdominal Crunch
- Half Curl
- Crossover Crunch
- Seated Oblique Twists with Medicine Ball
- Oblique Crunch
- Alternating Superman’s
- V-Sit Exercise
- Oblique Twist with Medicine Ball
Core Strength Training — According to strength and conditioning coach Brian Utley (The Athlete’s Insider), “abdominal training contributes to a stronger core, but hardly completes the job when you consider that there are actually 29 muscles that make up the core musculature.”
- Single Leg Abdominal Press
- Single-Leg Abdominal Press Variations
- Double-Leg Abdominal Press
- Double-Leg Abdominal Press
- Segmental Rotation
- Modified Plank
- Modified Plank Variations
- Side Plank
This article was adapted and expanded from the article, “How Core Strength Training Can Help Dentists with Lower Back Pain,” written by Brian Utley, CSCS, PES. If you enjoyed this article and want more information on back pain, core training, and exercise, please visit Brian’s blog at www.theathletesinsider.com.