Back pain? Preventing musculoskeletal pain in dentistry

Man with musculoskeletal back painMurray Irving explores what causes musculoskeletal pain amongst dentists and how they can avoid it in both the long and short term. 

We’re all guilty of it. Whether it’s prepping the distolingual portion of a molar or when a patient has limited mouth opening, the temptation to lean forward is instinctive. However, should we feel bad about this?

Posture plays a major role in how we teach and practise dentistry due to the high prevalence of musculoskeletal pain in dental professionals. There is data to show that 64-93% of dental workers suffer from this pain (Marshall et al, 1997; Anton et al, 2002). In addition to this, one paper showed that 85% of dental students reported some sort of pain of musculoskeletal origin (Ng, Hayes and Polster, 2016).

However, emerging evidence shows that poor posture may not be the sole cause of this epidemic and there could be more to this widespread problem.

What are musculoskeletal disorders (MSDs)?

The World Health Organisation defines MSDs as conditions that are typically characterised by ‘pain (often persistent) and limitations in mobility, dexterity and functional ability, reducing people’s ability to work and participate in social roles with associated impacts on mental wellbeing, and at a broader level impacts on the prosperity of communities’.

From this lengthy definition, it’s clear how much this could impact our careers, and it’s not just dental professionals that it affects. These conditions are also the leading contributor to global disability. And 20-33% of people across the globe suffer from some sort of MSD (James et al., 2018).

The causes of MSDs?

Unfortunately, dentistry is a very sedentary profession. Consequently most of the day is spent sitting down and carrying out repetitive movements in…

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