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How to avoid low back pain in dentistry

The practice of dentistry has been ranked as one of the most dangerous professions for your health, for multiple years in a row. This is due to awkward working postures, repetitive work, and prolonged standing that can result in pain, fatigue, and various musculoskeletal disorders (MSDs).

MSDs are injuries and disorders that affect the human body’s movement or musculoskeletal system (muscles, tendons, ligaments, nerves, discs, etc.). Studies show that the prevalence of MSDs among dentists and dental hygienists is as high as 93%!! In fact, one study listed musculoskeletal disorders as the top reason that dentists leave the profession early.

The MSDs that are most common in dentistry include chronic low back pain. Although there are numerous risk factors that cause this, today we will focus on two risk factors and what can be done to correct this.

1. The first risk factor is flexed spinal posture.

This is an extremely common position assumed by many dentists and often difficult to avoid. Flexing the spine forward over the patient is a risk factor for muscle strains, trigger points, and disc degeneration or herniation that can result in low back pain.

This (poor) posture increases the pressure on the spinal disks by 400%. If this is not addressed, the negative effects from this can be permanent. This not only leads to neck pain but is also a common factor in low back pain as well.

When your chest slumps forward, this puts tension on your low back. While being aware of your posture is great practice, this simply is not enough.

Solution: This can be easily corrected with training of specific muscles that help prevent low back pain (in dentists). In short, we need to strengthen certain posterior muscles in order to balance out the anterior muscles. While both vertical and horizontal rows/pulls can help, it’s important to avoid the upper traps and to make sure the spine remains neutral throughout these movements.

If you want to learn what exercises would be recommended for you personally, schedule your free 30-minute movement and posture screen HERE

2. The second risk factor is spinal rotation.

In the operatory dentists frequently lean forward and rotate their trunk putting strain on their spine and its stabilizing muscles. One study showed that right-handed dentists leaned forward, to the right & rotated to the left for two-thirds of their working hours...Yowza! Dentists who repeatedly postured this way had the highest incidence of low back pain.

Often times, spinal rotation can be almost impossible for dentists to avoid in the operatory. While the spine is made to twist and rotate, doing so for an extended period of time can be detrimental to the to the muscles and ligaments that surround your spine. Repeatedly twisting the trunk in one direction can also lead to the development of muscle imbalances that cause low back pain.

Solution: Dentists should implement a specific corrective rotation exercise in a functional position, as well as learn proper ergonomics in the operatory to minimize rotational movements. Implementing exercises that improve thoracic spine and hip mobility are crucial as well as core exercises that work to strengthen, stabilize and focus on anti-rotation.


In order to be productive in your practice, avoid pain, and extend your career, we must do our best to avoid any and all MSDs. While some dentists have been practicing much longer than others, it’s evident that no matter where you are at in your career, adding in strengthening exercises will only benefit you now AND in the long run. The sooner you start, the better you will feel, and it will eventually become part of your healthy habits- just like brushing your teeth :]

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