The purpose of stretching is multi-factorial offering numerous benefits. First, stretching elongates a muscle to allow more freedom of movement of the joint that the muscle crosses, therefore reducing excessive or imbalanced muscle forces that can cause dysfunction. Second, stretching improves flexibility, and for the elderly, this may reduce the risk of falls. Next, stretching increases range of motion (ROM), circulation and blood flow, and improves posture, balance and coordination. Also, stretching promotes relaxation and reduces stress. Other benefits of stretching include reducing muscle spasm, which in return can reduce pain. As well, it can assist with muscle recovery after exercise and with reducing delayed-onset muscle soreness. Finally, stretching can balance muscle groups that are unbalanced due to poor posture, or from performance of repetitive activities. Table 3 summarizes these benefits.2-12
For dental clinicians, the areas that may be vulnerable to tightness or imbalances include the neck, chest/shoulders, wrists/hands/fingers, hips, and the low back. Therefore, it is important for the clinician to adopt a stretching regime targeting specific regions that potentially can trigger pain, spasm, and imbalance. If these or other symptoms currently hinder your practice, then start immediately to manage the symptoms before they intensify. General guidelines will maximize the effectiveness and safety of your stretching routine. Table 4 offers several strategies to apply to your routine.13,14 Use the guidelines in Table 4 when considering the activities presented in the next section.
The following stretches, nerve glide, and joint mobilization offer the dental professional a specific means to combat occupational pain of musculoskeletal origin. Apply the guidelines in Table 4 whenever possible.