It’s critical to understand and implement proper ergonomics in order to maintain a long, healthy career.
In today's modern world, we spend a significant amount of time sitting in front of a computer, hunched over a smartphone, or performing various repetitive tasks. These sedentary activities can cause long-term damage to our bodies, leading to a range of musculoskeletal disorders (MSD), including neck and back pain, carpal tunnel syndrome, and even eye strain.¹ As dental hygienists, we are already at high risk for injury due to the tasks and duties we perform on a daily basis, including awkward positioning, reaching, twisting, and leaning, excessive grip on instruments, etc.² By understanding how posture is related to ergonomics, we can expand our potential for pain prevention.
Ergonomics is one of the first and strongest suggestions made when a dental hygienist experiences MSD symptoms. Understanding and implementing proper ergonomics is pivotal in order to maintain a healthy, long-lasting career in dentistry. While the field of ergonomics aims to prevent injuries by designing products and workspaces that optimize practitioner comfort, efficiency, and performance, to truly master ergonomics, one must first understand the importance of posture.¹
Why Should Hygienists Care About Posture?
Posture refers to the position of our bodies when sitting, standing, lying down, or moving. It is the alignment of the skeletal system and muscles that provides support for the body against the force of gravity. Practicing good posture helps maintain the natural curves of the spine and reduces stress on the joints, muscles, and ligaments. This allows the body to move more efficiently and effectively. Sound alignment and movement at work can help prevent fatigue and injury. As hygienists, we need to consider how we can work smarter, not harder. When our body is in alignment, less effort is required throughout the day, and as a result, we don’t have to work as hard to maintain our health.
How Posture Affects Your Health
Poor posture can cause a range of health problems. When we slouch or hunch over, either towards our patients or our smartphones, we put additional strain on our neck, shoulders, and back, often leading to discomfort and pain. Poor posture over time can lead to chronic conditions, including spinal disc degeneration, arthritis, and spinal stenosis. Poor posture can also lead to headaches and fatigue, which affects many dental professionals.
On the other hand, good posture has numerous health benefits that extend far beyond the op. Practicing good posture, in and out of work, can help prevent and alleviate pain and injuries from occurring. By maintaining proper posture, we reduce the strain on our muscles and joints, leading to improved overall health and well-being.³ Proper alignment of the body can improve digestion and circulation; it can also help to improve the way that we breathe, which is crucial for a balanced system.
This is extremely important for hygienists, as we spend most of our time sitting or standing at work. Neck pain is the first leading cause of pain for dental hygienists.⁴ The difference between a practitioner with poor posture versus a clinician implementing good postural alignment can make or break our health, and our careers.
Why Posture and Ergonomics are Related
Achieving good posture is not difficult, but it does require conscious and consistent effort. Ergonomics is the science of designing products and workspaces that optimize human performance and comfort while minimizing the risk of injury and discomfort.⁵ Proper posture plays a crucial role in ergonomics because it ensures that the body is properly aligned and supported while performing tasks. Good posture lays the foundation for sound ergonomics.
Ergonomics is particularly important in dentistry, as dentists and dental hygienists spend a significant amount of time in a seated position, often in awkward and uncomfortable positions. Ergonomics considers a range of factors, including practicing neutral posture, the design and use of equipment, the layout of the workspace, the tasks performed, and the way we perform them.
Poor posture and ergonomics can lead to a range of health problems, including neck and back pain, carpal tunnel syndrome, and eye strain. Because of this, dental equipment, such as chairs, handpieces, and dental instruments, should be designed to promote proper posture and minimize strain on the body. Practitioners should consider incorporating tools such as a properly fitted saddle stool or ergonomic loupes, which promote good posture, and as a result, improves the clinician's ergonomics. When good posture is understood, achieved, and maintained as a baseline, the other aspects of ergonomics become easier to incorporate.
Tips for Improving Posture and Ergonomics
There are many ways that practitioners can focus on improving posture and ergonomics. I recommend that dental professionals take a more holistic view of ergonomics and practitioner well-being. By adopting the recommendations below, clinicians can not only improve posture, but as a result, reduce the risk of pain and injury.
1. Focus on Practices to Improve Your Posture‑There are many different practices you can do throughout the day to focus on your posture. Whether you’re at work, in the car, or standing in line for coffee, you can focus on your posture. Making minor adjustments to your posture throughout the day builds muscle memory and establishes a new habit. Exercises like yoga therapy, Pilates, and strength training may help.
2. Take Breaks & Stretch: Take regular breaks when sitting or standing for long periods of time. Get up and move. Incorporate different stretches to help improve circulation and reduce tension in tight, overworked muscles. Additionally, focusing on taking long, slow deep breaths throughout the patient appointment can help relax the mind and body.
3. Adjust Your Workspace: Ensure your workspace is set up to support your body. This includes the way you position yourself and your patient throughout the appointment, and the placement and location of equipment, tools, and accessories. Ideally, your workspace allows you to maintain a neutral position throughout the majority of the patient appointment.
While our posture isn’t something that defines us, it is a crucial component of our health and well-being as dental practitioners. Achieving and maintaining good posture, both in and out of the op, will help to improve the clinician’s ergonomics. By adopting a holistic approach to practitioner well-being, dental professionals reduce the risk of injury, and maintain a long-lasting, healthy career in dentistry.