When I meet other dental professionals and they find out that I am also a Pilates instructor specialising in rehabilitating dental work-related pain and injuries, the most common response I hear is- Ah, so you can improve my ergonomics?
The answer to that question is- sort of.
Ergonomics is defined as the study of people’s efficiency in their working environment. In the dental setting, it most commonly refers to how to best protect yourself while you are working, finding the right body positioning through the use of things like loupes, microscopes, custom designed chairs etc. This is definitely an important part of minimising work-related injury as a poor work environment is certainly responsible for work-related pain.
Pilates on the other hand, is an exercise methodology that requires the practice of specific exercises to condition the body and spine so that it is better able to tolerate the physical stresses of the work that we all do.
It is about giving the body the core strength, spinal mobility and improving movement patterns.
My favourite analogy is that Pilates is like Flossing for your body. The analogy is best described as follows- flossing greatly reduces the development of periodontal issues but does not change the inherent risks of gum disease like diabetes, genetic predisposition etc.
Similarly, working in the dental profession has innate risks that does not allow us to achieve perfect ergonomics at all times. For example, if you have an osteoporotic older patient in the chair who cannot lie back flat but is in need of a routine restoration, it is unlikely you would send her away- instead we end up bending our own backs to accommodate hers.
The regular practice of Pilates gives you a far greater degree of spinal conditioning so that it is much easier to bounce back from that 60 minutes spent hunched over your patient. It improves your range of movement so that this bending isn’t so stressful to the body and it teaches good movement patterns so that you are less likely to experience pain.
Often people won’t immediately notice the effect Pilates has on their body because the changes are subtle but these changes become apparent once they stop doing it and feel all the old aches and pains creeping back- similarly, how many of our patients complain about flossing but realise its benefits when they stop doing it and the gingival bleeding returns!
In my opinion, Pilates and Ergonomics are both essential parts to health and wellbeing. They are synergistic but fundamentally different- doing one or the other is great but both together will exponentially improve outcomes.