It’s a tale as old as time: girl meets hygiene school and falls in love with the profession. She lived—not happily ever after—but in so much pain she questioned whether she could continue working in dentistry.
That was my story. Does it sound familiar? I know I am not alone. The timeline or details may be different for everyone, but the overall theme stays the same: working in dentistry is physically demanding and our bodies are suffering because of it.
An estimated 78% of dental professionals are in pain.1 It is imperative we continue to explore ways to extend and improve the quality of not only our careers, but overall life. Let’s look at the Essentrics workout and see how it can be the perfect fit for dental professionals.
Five years into practicing hygiene, I was sitting in my physical therapist’s office, hopeful for some answers to my chronic back pain. She looked me dead in the eyes and said, “You need to work on your posture.” I scoffed. I was a former ballet dancer; I had perfect posture. Her next words were a turning point for me, “Look at yourself.” A quick self-scan revealed slumped shoulders, a rounded back, and a head inching forward. I faced the cold, hard truth: I was a former ballet dancer. I had deluded myself into thinking that I could take my ballerina-perfect posture with me into adulthood. As the adage goes, “If you don’t use it, you’ll lose it.” Enter the Essentrics workout to save the day.
I had no interest in getting back into ballet class, but knew I needed something to regain the posture I had lost while working in dentistry. It is no surprise that research is showing the importance of exercise for the dental professional in the prevention and reduction of musculoskeletal disorders.2-4 When searching for a long-term exercise program, I wanted something that would not only help me continue working, but also benefit my everyday life. Little did I know, there was a workout that would do that and much more.
So, what is this workout all about?
Essentrics is a full-body, dynamic stretch workout. Stretching and strengthening simultaneously while staying in motion, it uses the principle of eccentric training to rebalance the musculature of the body. Emerging research is showing the benefits of eccentric training: rehabilitation, pain relief, increased muscle mass, and decreased perception of exertion.5,6 Because Essentrics uses body weight for resistance and is low impact, it’s safe and suitable for all fitness levels from beginner to advanced.
Previously, every workout or exercise I tried aggravated my back pain. But I noticed a significant reduction in my pain the more I practiced Essentrics. I attribute this to the fact that the concept is very strategic and science-based with the main goal of rebalancing all the muscles of the body.
Essentrics helps reverse the effects of the prolonged, uncomfortable postures required in dentistry. Both awkward and static positions while working play a significant role in contributing to the pain of dental professionals.1,7 In dentistry, we are hunched over our patients for long periods of time. As we lean over, our muscles contract and can become chronically shortened over time. Conversely, muscles that are needed to maintain an upright position are weakened and thus create muscle imbalances.
The Essentrics technique draws on several traditional exercise modalities to create a unique, effective workout. Using the flowing movements inspired by tai chi and the healing principles of physiotherapy, Essentrics encourages a pain-free body. It also creates toned, flexible muscles by utilizing the strengthening theories behind ballet. Make no mistake—having a dance or ballet background is not needed to enjoy the benefits of this program!
While I may not be a prima ballerina, I feel I got to my happy ending after all. I am so thankful! I got my posture back and am able to continue to work in dentistry. I believe our work as dental professionals is so important, and I’m passionate about helping us practice without pain. Read on to see a sample exercise and try a workout for yourself. You’ll also hear testimonials from fellow dental professionals about this life-changing program.
Example exercise: Windmills
Essentrics windmills rebalance the musculature of the back and open the chest to improve posture (figure 1). Stand with your feet shoulder-width apart, knees slightly bent, and core engaged. Start by placing arms shoulder height—one arm in front, one in back. Pull up through your spine as you move your arms in a forward, tandem motion. Keep good alignment from head to toe; avoid sinking in the low back and keep your legs engaged so the knees do not collapse inward. For toning and body shaping, create resistance by imagining your arms are pushing through something heavy. For a more restorative objective, relax and imagine your arms are featherlight to help with pain relief and tension.
Resources to practice
The Essentrics website has a wealth of information about the technique, some selected free workouts to sample, and a search option to find a local, live class near you with a certified instructor. The website provides a streaming subscription service with live and prerecorded workouts. You can also see the creator of Essentrics, fitness expert Miranda Esmonde-White, on your local PBS station. For the past 20 years, she has hosted Classical Stretch by Essentrics. In addition, Miranda is a New York Times best-selling author of Aging Backwards and Forever Painless.
Testimony from dental professionals
“I've been a dental hygienist for over 32 years and a fitness instructor for most of that time. I believe Essentrics has been essential in prolonging my career by stretching and strengthening the muscles and joints we dental professionals use (and overuse) every hour of every day. I searched out this program because ‘exercise should not hurt and should be fun.’ I definitely recommend this program!!”
—Carol Price, BA, RDH, certified Essentrics instructor
“As part of my career I assisted dental professionals with ergonomic adjustments to help alleviate pain. Ergonomic adjustments can only slightly help. I believe Essentrics practiced daily is the answer to a pain-free practice. Essentrics allows the spinal column to decompress, allowing the body’s natural healing.”
—Jan Landis, EFDA, certified Essentrics instructor
“I knew I needed to find a solution to my neck and shoulder pain that created far too many migraines over the years. Not only does Essentrics strengthen and stretch the muscles simultaneously, but it works deep into the connective tissues (fascia, ligaments, and tendons) to ‘rewire’ the nervous system to allow it to function the way it was meant to function. Which meant no more migraines for me! So, what to do next? Become an instructor, naturally!”
—Jill Roth, RDH, certified Essentrics level 4 instructor
Disclaimer: Remember to consult your physician before attempting any new exercises or fitness programs. The content of this article is for educational purposes only and should not be considered a substitute for advice from a physician.
- Lietz J, Kozak A, Nienhaus A. Prevalence and occupational risk factors of musculoskeletal diseases and pain among dental professionals in Western countries: a systematic literature review and meta-analysis. PloS One. 2018;13(12):e0208628. doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0208628
- Gandolfi MG, Zamparini F, Spinelli A, Risi A, Prati C. Musculoskeletal disorders among Italian dentists and dental hygienists. Int J Environ Res Public Health. 2021;18(5):2705. doi:10.3390/ijerph18052705
- Nye WH, Partido BB, DeWitt J, Kearney RC. Prevention and reduction of musculoskeletal pain through chair-side stretching among dental hygiene students. J Dent Hyg. 2021;95(1):84-91.
- De Sio S, Traversini V, Rinaldo F, et al. Ergonomic risk and preventive measures of musculoskeletal disorders in the dentistry environment: an umbrella review. PeerJ. 2018;6:e4154. doi:10.7717/peerj.4154
- Heredia-Rizo AM, Petersen KK, Madeleine P, Arendt-Nielsen L. Clinical outcomes and central pain mechanisms are improved after upper trapezius eccentric training in female computer users with chronic neck/shoulder pain. Clin J Pain. 2019;35(1):65-76. doi:10.1097/AJP.0000000000000656
- Hody S, Croisier JL, Bury T, Rogister B, Leprince P. Eccentric muscle contractions: risks and benefits. Front Physiol. 2019;10:536. doi:10.3389/fphys.2019.00536
- Lietz J, Ulusoy N, Nienhaus A. Prevention of musculoskeletal diseases and pain among dental professionals through ergonomic interventions: a systematic literature review. Int J Environ Res Public Health. 2020;17(10):3482. doi:10.3390/ijerph17103482