need to do
Eric Strouse, DMD
IF YOU ARE A DENTIST READING THIS ARTICLE, you have likely experienced
back pain at some point in your career. My eyes were opened to this during my very
first year of dental school. In the sim lab, I practiced countless Class II preps, trying to
achieve that perfect proximal box. Indirect vision is difficult, and I discovered that I
was torquing myself into every position imaginable to get the best possible
visualization. Soon, I found my back flaring up with soreness. As a 23-year-old dental
student, this was somewhat unnerving. I had no idea that dentistry would be such a
physically demanding profession. Would I be doomed to a career full of back pain?
Back pain has been well documented as a major issue
1 Whether you are finishing your first year
of preclinical laboratory or have been practicing for 30-plus
years, you have probably dealt with back pain at some point
in your career. Given the unique stresses of dentistry—
which include prolonged muscle contraction, postural
asymmetry, and mental stress, among other things—back
pain is often seen as an occupational hazard.
Several studies have investigated the prevalence of back
pain in dentists. A systematic review from the International
Journal of Dental Hygiene showed the prevalence of back
pain among dentists and hygienists to be between 36% and
2 Another study in the Journal of Physical Therapy
Sciences examining self-reported back pain among dentists
found a prevalence of 70%.
3 These reports are probably no
surprise to you.
So what can be done? Many products aimed at postural
health are now available. From loupes to specially designed
ergonomic chairs, we have a litany of options. But what if
there was one exercise you could perform, requiring nothing other than your own body and a few spare minutes?
After my unfortunate experience early in dental school, I
began to ponder what could be done about my back pain.
Thinking back to my career competing in track and field,
I zeroed in on a simple exercise for the core that gave my
teammates and me excellent results.
The superman exercise builds significant strength and
stability for the spine, helping prevent and reduce back pain.
The exercise primarily targets the erector spinae, the three
long muscles surrounding the spine that help extend, flex,
and rotate the spine and neck. Even better, the superman
exercise strengthens various synergist and stabilizing muscles, such as the hamstrings, glutes, deltoids, and trapezii.
Like a post and core stabilize a crown, the spine and the
erector spinae muscles allow us to stabilize our bodies. By
strengthening these muscles, it will allow us to better handle
the wear and tear that comes with practicing dentistry.
Step No. 1: Lie prone on the floor or an exercise mat
with your arms and legs extended.
Step No. 2: Using the muscles of your back, simultaneously raise your arms, legs, and chest off the floor, holding
the contraction at the top for one full second. Note: Squeeze
your lower back for optimal results, exhaling at the top of
the movement. In this position, you should look like a
Step No. 3: Slowly lower your arms, legs, and chest to
the starting position while inhaling.
Step No. 4: Repeat for 15–20 repetitions in three sets.
The exercise can be modified by using one arm and leg at
a time. Elevate the right arm and left leg simultaneously
while focusing on achieving maximum extension, stretching at your fingers and toes. Repeat on the opposite side.
Physical health cannot be discounted in any career, and
dentistry is no exception. Just as disciplined home care and
biannual checkups are preventive for dental disease, the
superman exercise can be preventive for back pain when
combined with a balanced diet and exercise plan. While this
exercise might not turn you into a superhero, a few mindful
minutes spent performing it as part of your daily routine can
help lead you to a pain-free and productive career.
ERIC STROUSE, DMD, is a dental resident
at Sacred Heart Hospital in Allentown,
Pennsylvania, and a graduate of the University
of Connecticut School of Dental Medicine. He
was a varsity track and field athlete at
Muhlenberg College and is a lifetime fitness
enthusiast. He can be reached at
firstname.lastname@example.org or (203) 278-2218.
1. Valachi B, Valachi K.
disorders in dentistry.
J Am Dent Assoc.
2. Hayes M, Cockrell D,
Smith DR. A
systematic review of
Int J Dent Hyg.
2009; 7( 3):159-165.
3. Gaowgzeh RA,
Chevidikunnan MF, Al
Saif A, El-Gendy S,
Karrouf G, Al Senany S.
Prevalence of and risk
factors for low back
pain among dentists. J
Phys Ther Sci.
2015; 27( 9):2803-2806.
Steps No. 1 and 2 of the exercise are demonstrated,