Dentistry and lower back pain

Updated: Mar 22

Dentistry is definitely not kind physically to to he who practices it. We hear of it all the time... all of our colleagues eventually go out with or retire with lower back pain, neck pain, frozen shoulder, or etc...

Even though I'm still fairly young relative to some of our more seasoned colleagues, I've started to experience some of the above after effects of dentistry. I mean it really does not bode well when over the course of my one year general practice residency, half of my co-residents had to call out at some point due to physical pain and even one of my attendings too. My attending couldn't turn his neck two degrees in either direction for over a week...

Dentistry is not a friend to our physical well being but rather a problem. If a problem is recognized then it needs to be solved. Today we will address lower back pain but before then some background information about my journey would be helpful I suppose.

I use to be very enthusiastic about weight training. I've tried out many different training programs over the year. Started with the typical bodybuilding programs and then moved onto strength training. Yes, I've done the starting strength and the gallon of milk a day... but at the end of it, that was also the time that I discovered that I was lactose intolerant ironically. Eventually I landed on DC training, which is still my favorite to date. It was very unique and it was low volume but somehow it worked really well. I still believe in its principles even to this date even though I no longer train that way anymore.

I've long given up on weight training so that I may allocate my resources to other endeavors but I have not forgotten what I've learned or rather that I can't forget. The two biggest reasons for me to give it up is 1) the dietary maintenance/requirement and 2) it feels incredibly selfish. Regarding the former, its not even so much about dedicating the time to the workouts, its the constant feeding of calories 24 hours a day and 7 days a week that I am unable to give. The later is a little more personal but we won't dive into that. Nonetheless, I would love to just close the page on this chapter of my life but I can't. This sassy little thing named lower back pain will drop by and say hello once I stop all physical activities.

I've gone through that cycle many times. I would lift for a few months and then stop lifting for a few months. It is always during those few months once I've stopped lifting that I start to re-experience lower back pain but after a couple of these cycles I've noticed some patterns.


- After training for a few months and then I stop. The first few weeks after stopping I will not notice any pain. The pain will eventually come but it is delayed. I believe this is what they call "riding off of the gains". The strength and endurance that I've built up slowly declines over the coming weeks until it hits a point where the pain of dentistry overwhelms it. From then on, all hell breaks loose.

- Squatting once a week with a barbell seems to stave off lower back pain.

The second point is what I will be focusing on since I believe it will be beneficial to even beyond dentistry. Over the last 14-15 years of my relationship with lifting this is what I've come to learn. Barbell squatting once a week will stave off lower back pain and it doesn't have to be any sort of "heavy" weight by any means. What works for me is simply just squatting once a week for just two sets. One "heavier" set and one lighter but for higher volume. The heavier set just has to be more than your bodyweight at the 5-8 rep range and the lighter set just needs to be in the 12-15 rep range. You can progress and scale it at your own discretion but it doesn't need to be anything fancy... Higher volume is more beneficial than lower volume since endurance is more important than raw power if our goal is to prevent pain. As long as I just do this once a week for 2 sets, I do not experience lower back pain.

It has gotten to the point where lower back pain is no longer a problem for me. It is no longer something that I'm actively still trying to solve. If I do feel pain back there then it is usually due to my own negligence of not keeping up with what I've prescribed for myself to do.

It is absolutely amazing how just two sets once a week can do wonders for you. Almost all of the strength training programs out there have you doing it 2-3x a week with significantly more volume and more weight... Perhaps this falls underneath the 80/20 principle where 20% of what you do will give you 80% of the results.

That's about all that I want to say regarding this subject but upper back and neck pain is still a work in progress.

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