In a society that bombards us with exercise options, from Ab-blasters to Bun-busters, it’s hard to imagine that strengthening your muscles could be anything but beneficial. Yet, because dental hygienists are predisposed to unique muscle imbalances, all exercise is not necessarily good exercise for dental hygienists. In fact, certain generic exercises, Pilates routines and gym equipment can actually throw hygienists into the vicious pain cycle.
When hygienists become familiar with their muscle imbalances, they are better able to select exercises and modify existing exercise routines to improve their health—not make it worse. In addition to selecting which exercises, it is imperative to understand how hygienists should strengthen these muscles. Recent research shows that a method called muscular endurance training can help dental professionals reduce work-related pain. Other research supports specific types of exercise in reducing pain.(1)
VIEW VIDEO: “Why Dental Professionals Require Specific Exercise”
VIEW SAMPLE MUSCULAR ENDURANCE EXERCISES:
In order to perform the precision tasks of dentistry, the arms must have a stable base from which to operate. For example, the delivery of dental hygiene requires excellent endurance of the shoulder girdle stabilizing muscles for safe shoulder movement and working posture. These shoulder stabilizing muscles tend to fatigue quickly with forward head, rounded upper back and elevated arm postures—all commonly seen among hygienists. When these muscles fatigue, other muscles must compensate and become overworked, tight and painfully ischemic.
An effective exercise regimen for hygienists will target specific shoulder girdle, trunk and back stabilizing muscles, without engaging the muscles that are prone to tightness and ischemia.(2) This requires expert knowledge of biomechanics and kinesiology. In addition, specific muscles that are prone to tightness and ischemia must be targeted with stretching exercise and avoid strengthening.
How to Develop an Effective Exercise Program
• Target the correct muscles with muscular endurance training: Use light resistance and high repetitions (15-20 reps) when training these muscles, usually an elastic exercise band is sufficient for the shoulder muscles, while gravity-resisted exercise on the floor or an exercise ball is good for the trunk muscles.
• Perform strengthening exercises 3 times a week, always allowing 1 day in-between sessions.
• Target specific tight, ischemic muscles with regular chairside stretching. Stretching should be performed daily.(3)
• Strengthening exercises should only be performed when there is no musculoskeletal pain and full range of motion is present.
• It is a good idea to seek professional guidance from a physical or occupational therapist when beginning any new exercise regimen and to ensure good technique.
Embarking upon an exercise program requires prudence and discretion, considering team members’ predisposition to certain muscle imbalances. Selecting improper exercises can lead to imbalance, ischemia, nerve impingement, and other pain syndromes. Developing balanced musculoskeletal health with a well-designed exercise program can help hygienists prevent work-related pain, avoid injuries, extend their careers and improve their quality of life.