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Back Pain is a Pain in the Neck if You are a Health Care Provider

Doctor and nurse illustrating poor posture while treating patient

When most people go to see a doctor, nurse, surgeon, or dentist, the expectation is that the health care provider will solve or treat their problem. What most of us don't think about is the toll that patient care and treatment has on the practitioner's own health. In addition to the long hours, tedious insurance protocols, job related stress, responsibility and liability, the occupational hazards leading to musculoskeletal disorders for health care providers are rampant.

Musculoskeletal disorders (MSDs) are described as disorders of the muscles, nerves, tendons, ligaments, joints, cartilage, or spinal discs. They include but are not limited to: carpal tunnel syndrome, epicondylitis, tendinitis, back pain, tension neck syndrome, and hand-arm vibration syndrome. The Center for Disease Control (CDC) offers 590 pages of an extensive review of work-related musculoskeletal disorders of the neck, upper extremity, and low back .

An analysis of compensation claims for hospital workers in the United States listed musculoskeletal disorders as the most common occupational injury and illness. Moreover, 76% of those compensation claims were musculoskeletal disorders. The data also indicated that patient handling was a major factor showing an association with MSDs .

This is further compounded by a study from Occupational Medicine, which determined musculoskeletal injuries as the leading category of occupational injury in health care. Of the total number of injuries reported, 83% were musculoskeletal; the leading cause of musculoskeletal injury was awkward posture.

surgeon and health care providers illustrating poor posture leaning over patient

A survey reported in the International Journal of Surgery sought to investigate the prevalence of pain experienced by surgeons while operating in Britain. Back and neck were the most common areas of pain for surgeons and 80% described pain on a regular basis. Whats more, there are no guidelines from occupational health departments or training courses to help minimize these symptoms.

dentist illustrating poor posture bending over patient

Perhaps it is no surprise that the health care providers most known for poor posture are dental professionals. According to the International Journal of Dental Hygiene, prevalence of general musculoskeletal pain ranges between 64% and 93%, with the back and neck being the most prevalent regions for pain among dentists. A US study of dental hygienists reported that approximately 93% experienced musculoskeletal symptoms.

Dentists, hygienists, and dental assistants spend the majority of their time with patients bent over while examining and treating their mouths. The detriments of this type of posture are addressed in an article by Dr. Anikó Ball, an esteemed dentist from Melbourne, Australia. Dr. Ball states, "as you look into your patients’ mouths, you are bending by collapsing the front of your torso and distorting your spine." Additionally, "most dentists, hygienists and OHT’s (Oral Health Therapists) have a preferred work posture sitting close to the edge of the head rest. This means there is no room to bend forward without distorting the spine."

Dr. Ball is a leading pioneer among health care providers. She is the founder of Optimum Dental Posture, an organization that specializes in the recovery and prevention of work related chronic pain in the dental profession. In addition to her research on musculoskeletal disorders in dentistry, Dr. Ball and her assistant trainers provide practical and interactive training programs and in-practice coaching for dental professionals.

There is no reason for medical professionals to continue to suffer from musculoskeletal disorders while treating patients, and consequently cause harm to their own bodies. Practitioners like Dr. Ball, who have suffered from frequent pain and discomfort due to the harmful posture and movement habits of their work, are now revolutionizing the health care industry.

Currently, the health care industry does not have an effective preventative or treatment plan for medical professionals to offset musculoskeletal disorders. Dr. Ball was unable to find effective and long-term solutions for her own chronic pain. She explained that doctors and physical therapists offered short-term symptom relief without identifying her symptoms as work related. It wasn't until she discovered the Alexander Technique, a clinically proven method used to identify harmful habits that lead to body tension and pain, that Dr. Ball got her life back. She then decided to train to become an Alexander Technique teacher in order to teach her colleagues to apply the Inner Ergonomic principles of the Alexander Technique, and save them from occupational pain. In addition to recognizing the habits that cause pain, the Alexander Technique also provides tools to reeducate the body for greater ease, mobility and functioning.

There are other health care providers, like Dr. Ball, who are also proponents of the Alexander Technique. Robert Rickover, a renowned Alexander Technique teacher from Lincoln, Nebraska and Toronto, Canada, interviewed several medical and research professionals who provided endorsements of the Alexander Technique. An interview with Dr. Paul Little MD, Professor of Primary Care Research at Southampton University in England, discussed the Alexander Technique as an effective method of helping people with chronic and recurrent back pain. Dr. Little was the lead investigator of a recent study in the British Medical Journal, which underscored the benefits of the Alexander Technique.

An increasing number of health care providers are recognizing the limitations of traditional medicine when it comes to treating musculoskeletal disorders for themselves and their patients. More and more physicians are becoming advocates of methods like the Alexander Technique, as an improved modality to decrease chronic pain associated with musculoskeletal disorders. Jack Stern, MD, a spinal neurosurgeon and faculty member of Yale School of Medicine, spoke about the usefulness of the Alexander Technique for people suffering from back pain who want to avoid surgery. Also Dr. Theodore Steinman, MD, Clinical Professor of Medicine at the Harvard Medical School and pain management expert, explained the role that the Alexander Technique can have in pain management.

While some people in the United States still haven't heard about the benefits of the Alexander Technique, it is well-known and even integrated into the health care systems in places like the United Kingdom and Israel. In the UK, National Health Service (NHS) trusts have started to offer Alexander Technique lessons as part of their outpatient pain clinics. In Israel, Clalit Mushlam, a branch of one of Israel's largest mandated health service organizations, offers substantial discounts for medical coverage of Alexander Technique lessons.

Alexander Technique lessons are a much more affordable option than surgery or medication. Furthermore, lessons are non-intrusive and highly efficacious. Back pain doesn't have to be a pain in the neck whether you are a health care provider or a patient. The Alexander Technique has been around for over 100 years and has helped countless individuals significantly reduce pain and improve their overall health and quality of life. For more information about the Alexander Technique, including how to find a teacher in your area, visit the Complete Guide to the Alexander Technique.

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