How dental assistants can manage aches and pains

woman experiencing back pain

Not everyone may realize that dental assisting can be a physically demanding job. But working in the dental field involves a lot of repetitive movements and sitting in unnatural positions for prolonged periods. Over time, this can cause discomfort and pain in your back, neck, hands, shoulders, wrists, and other areas of the body.

These aches and pains can make it difficult to perform your job as effectively as possible. It can also affect your quality of life outside the dental office. For some dental assistants, the physical demands of the profession can prompt a career change earlier than anticipated.

How can you alleviate or prevent pain from your job? Here are a few helpful tips.

Pay attention to posture

The reality of dental assisting is that providing patient care involves a lot of bending, twisting, and reaching. As a result, many assistants develop ailments such as carpal tunnel syndrome, low back pain, and tension in the neck and shoulders. Practicing good sitting posture can help.

When working with a patient in the dental chair, avoid slouching and try to keep your spine in a neutral position when possible. Per the Mayo Clinic, this means resting your feet flat on the floor with your knees and hips level, centering your head above your torso (i.e., avoid slouching or leaning at the waist), and relaxing your shoulders. Maintaining a neutral posture can alleviate pressure on your spine, prevent fatigue, and relax muscles in your shoulders, neck, and back. You can strategically position your instruments, lighting, and the patient so that you don’t have to strain while assisting with a procedure. Ergonomic chairs can also help you maintain better posture; talk to your dentist or office manager if your office could use an upgrade.

The World Dental Federation has additional guidelines for maintaining good posture as an oral health professional.

Stand when possible

According to a study conducted in Serbia, alternating between sitting and standing may help dental professionals reduce fatigue and pain. Sitting and standing work involve different muscle groups and joints. Alternating allows these areas of the body to rest periodically. Standing may be especially helpful if your dentist is taller than you and needs to position their chair higher than you can comfortably sit.

“I’ve been assisting for 25 years, and when I started standing during procedures, it was a game changer for my back and neck,” says Angelica.

Stretch out

Moving throughout the day can also help you avoid fatigue in your muscles and joints. Typically, this isn’t a problem for dental assistants, who are often on the move while preparing exam rooms, greeting patients, and performing other tasks around the office. Some dental assistants say they have no problem reaching 10,000 steps per day. While walking around can keep your legs limber, you should also take time to stretch your neck, back, shoulders, and wrists to keep your muscles strong and flexible.

“It’s really important to find ways to stretch and strengthen your wrist and hand muscles because of the many micromovements daily,” shares Katelyn.


Outside the office, getting regular exercise can strengthen your muscles, increase your endurance, and prevent fatigue and discomfort at work. For example, having a strong core can help you maintain better posture and range of motion while assisting with appointments. Exercises such as yoga, running, and walking can keep your muscles strong and limber, as well as strengthen your core. Lifting weights can keep your wrists and shoulders strong, which can prevent fatigue while you’re holding dental instruments. Overall, staying active can help you feel your best at work.

This article is for informational purposes only and not intended as medical advice. Consult a licensed medical provider to discuss your condition and potential treatment.