Smart Workday Stretches That Promote Longevity for Dental Hygienists (Videos Included)

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Throughout my 30-year career as a clinical dental hygienist, I have had several physical therapy sessions for hand, shoulder, neck, and lower back chronic pain and fatigue. I found great comfort and release of tension with these simple and smart stretches.

Please do these stretches gently and only as your body feels comfortable. If any stretch makes you feel uncomfortable for a prolonged period of time, take note and seek counsel from your medical doctor before continuing.

Pelvic Tilt

The Pelvic tilt is the most important stretch that I do during my patient day. It is simple, easy, effective, and can be done while working on your patient. It is an imperative exercise to help with core strengthening and to prevent over-curvature of the spine while sitting in a dental chair over-focused on patient care.

All videos courtesy of Rebecca Friend, BS, RDH

  • Tighten your tummy between your pelvic bones
  • Tilt your belly button towards your spine
  • Squeeze glutes tight
  • Hold for 5-10 seconds
  • Repeat 5-10 times or more throughout each patient appointment

When done repeatedly throughout the day, muscle memory will kick in, and core posture will be reinforced. Hint: Think of doing a bridge, but in your chair.

Chin Tuck

The Chin tuck helps keep the neck in proper alignment as well as relieving shoulder and scapular muscle pain. That unreachable knot between the shoulder blades is usually caused by forward neck posture, which is unavoidable even with loupes (especially during times of intense focus and instrumentation during challenging periodontal cases). This simple exercise should be done every day as much as possible for a healthy neck.

  • Sit straight, shoulders back and down.
  • Tuck your chin back and hold for 1-2 seconds
  • Repeat 5-10 times throughout the day

*Optional- With the “V” of your thumb and index fingers, gently hold and slide the chin back.

Note: It should look like a chicken pecking at food

Shoulder Tuck (Scapular Retration)

The shoulder tuck (scapular retraction) is another simple stretch that has a big impact on posture correction. This simple stretch can easily be done in your operatory or the lab between patients. It takes only a few seconds and will help bring your shoulders back into proper socket alignment. The downward, forward, and lifted posture of a hygienist brings the shoulder anterior in the socket and can cause all sorts of pain. As a side sleeper, this anterior shoulder position can also contribute to pain at night and numbness of the arm.

  • Stand straight with arms at side.
  • Focus on extending your shoulders back and downward.
  • Gently squeeze scapulas together and downward.
  • Hold for 5-10 seconds.
  • Repeat frequently throughout the day.

It helps to imagine that you are tucking your right scapula into your left cheek (pants) pocket, and your left scapula into your right cheek (pants) pocket.

Hand Stretches

Hand stretching releases chronic hand fatigue, which is caused when muscles and tendons become pinched and foreshortened over time. Releasing tight muscle fibers aids in lengthening the muscles and preventing tendon-pull and nerve pinching. So many hand stretches come to mind, but I will focus on the most basic ones. These stretches may help prevent instrument dropping, tingling-hand syndrome, and carpal tunnel surgery.

Open Hand Splayed Finger Stretch

  • With open hand(s), splay and stretch thumb and fingers away from each other
  • Hold for 5-10 seconds, release, and make a gentle ball with the fist
  • Repeat 5-10 times throughout the day
Open Hand Finger Tip Touch

  • Touch each fingertip slowly and purposefully to the tip of the thumb
  • After each touch, extend all fingers and touch the next finger in succession to the thumb tip.
  • Repeat 3-5 times
  • Do throughout the day
Downward Wrist Flex

  • Hold one hand straight in front of you with the palm facing down
  • With opposite hand, gently hold back of outstretched hand and flex it downward, making a right angle at the wrist
  • Gently stretch
  • Hold for a few seconds, then release
  • Repeat 3-5 times
  • Repeat with the other hand
Upward Wrist Flex

  • Hold one hand straight in front of you with the palm facing up
  • With opposite hand, gently hold all fingers of outstretched hand downward, causing palm to face away from your body
  • Gently stretch
  • Hold for a few seconds, release
  • Repeat 3-5 times
  • Repeat with the other hand

Hip Flexion

Hip flexion helps keep the glutes happy, and when glutes are happy, the body is happier. Sitting in a dental chair, whether it is a saddle chair or a standard dental chair, puts the hip flexors in a static position for lengthy periods of time. Doing hip flexion exercises can release and prevent knots in the glutes, prevent lower back pain, and improve posture. Glutes are powerhouse muscles and should be treated that way. They are not meant to be idle for such long periods of time. Simple hip flexion exercises can be done right in the operatory.

Hip Flexion Stretch (Sitting)

  • Sit with feet flat on the floor, back straight
  • Lift one leg over the other at the knee
  • Gently press folded knee down with the same-side hand
  • Lean (slightly) forward with a straight back
  • Hold stretch for 3-5 seconds
  • Repeat with the other leg
  • Do throughout the day as desired
Hip Flexion Stretch (Standing)

  • Stand facing a countertop. Place hands on the counter for balance if needed
  • Lift left leg and place the bottom of the foot on the inner thigh of the right leg
  • Hold for 5 to 10-plus seconds
  • Repeat with the right leg.
  • Remember to keep posture straight.
  • Enjoy the stretch as desired throughout the day

These stretches are choice because they can all be done during your workday. Some while doing patient care, some while recording patient records, and others, perhaps during lunch hour. The human body does not like to be static. These stretches will aid in strengthening muscles around the joints. The longevity of your career may be dependent on including in-office stretching on a daily basis, along with regular exercise.

Now Listen to the Today’s RDH Dental Hygiene Podcast Below:

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Rebecca Marie Friend, BS, RDH
Rebecca Marie Friend, RDH, BS, attained her Associate of Applied Science degree in Dental Hygiene from Ferris State University, Big Rapids, Michigan, in 1987, where she also met and married her husband. She has been a practicing dental hygienist for over 30 years and has raised three sons while working as a full-time clinical dental hygienist. Rebecca currently practices in Battle Creek, Michigan. She resides in neighboring historic Marshall, Michigan. Rebecca is board certified in Nitrous Oxide and Local Anesthesia Administration and is certified in low-level laser therapy. Continuously striving to improve upon her skills and methods of forward-thinking in the dental world, she recently attained her Bachelor of Science degree in Oral Health Promotion through Action Research at O’Hehir University. She is actively involved in a mentorship with students at O’Hehir University. “I take pride in my abilities as a skilled periodontal therapist. I enjoy the patient-practitioner relationship that develops when trust and health are gained, taking mindful care of every individual that I connect with. The benefits of helping others achieve a healthy mouth and regain their confidence with a great smile and healthier self are very rewarding. Whole-body health begins with the mouth.” In her free time, Rebecca enjoys visiting the beautiful shores of Lake Michigan, where the sunsets are magical, the dunes are stunning, and the rocks are a collector’s delight. She loves to immerse herself in nature whenever she gets a chance and enjoys canoeing, kayaking, nature walks, flexibility training, yoga, and little “get-a-ways” with her husband. Family life has always been important to her, and now that her three grown sons have spread their wings, she has a little more time to spread hers.