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    Why poor posture can be a real pain in the neck

    The top tips for ensuring that you are ergonomically healthy.

    Dentistry just doesn’t lend itself to good posture, which means it does lend itself to a host of ergonomic strains and injuries.

    But with proper instruction and practice, you and your staff can correct bad habits that are likely to increase injuries and lower productivity.

    An ergonomic hazard is defined by the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) as “a physical factor within the environment that harms the musculoskeletal system.” Ergonomic hazards include repetitive movement, workplace/job/task design, uncomfortable workstation height and poor body positioning.

    Related article: The top excercises that can worsen dentists' health

    Symptoms of musculoskeletal disorders (MSDs), according to the OSHA, include pain, numbness, tingling, stiff joints, difficulty moving, muscle loss and sometimes even paralysis.

    A report by the USAF Dental Evaluation and Consultation Service notes that for dentists and their assistants, particular stressors include: sustained or awkward positions, forceful hand exertions, vibrating operational devices and the precision required of the work.

    To avoid these types of stressors, an International Journal of Clinical Pediatric Dentistry article recommends:

    • Using an adjustable chair with lumbar, thoracic and arm support
    • Working close to your body
    • Minimizing excessive wrist movements
    • Avoiding excessive finger movements
    • Alternating work positions between sitting, standing and side-of-patient
    • Adjusting the height of your chair and the patient's chair to a comfortable level
    • Considering horizontal patient positioning

    When working with patients, your goal should be a neutral posture, one in which the joints are not bent and the spine is aligned and not twisted.

    E-book: 5 things you need to know about ergonomics

    While you’re much more likely to be sitting, rather than standing when working, that certainly doesn’t prevent sustained, awkward positions, notes Dr. Regina Pope-Ford, an assistant professor at Bradley University in Phoenix.

    When Pope-Ford evaluated 12 dentists as they worked on a patient simulator performing tooth extractions, mirror checks and cavity preparations with a handpiece, she found that the dentists stood less than 10 to 15 percent of the time with patients.

    And while standing may cause back disorders, sitting may result in neck injuries. She found that most of the dentists she studied exceeded recommended levels of muscle contraction for static postures.

    Up next: More tips to help you combat unnecessary strain

    Stephenie Overman
    Stephenie Overman has written about workplace and health issues for Fortune.com, HR Magazine, Employee Benefits News, the Los Angeles ...


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