The Strain Of Repeated Precise Movements

One in ten dentists according to a 1997 survey have such severe pain from repetitive work movements that they seek the help of a physician and about half of these curtail their work because of such pain.

I’m listening to a great interview by Robert Rickover with dentist and Alexander Technique teacher Martin Goldman of the San Francisco Bay Area.

This interview will be of interest to anyone who has to work in odd positions doing precise work.

Martin: “The Alexander Technique is a 100-year old method for streamlining how you perform day-to-day activities. It provides a way to let go of unnecessary tension and to allow for free and open movement.”

“I had a private practice for 30 years. I thought that coming home after a long day with a sore aching back and shoulders as tight as piano wire was just part of the game. I tried acupuncture, yoga, various exercise regiments. They’d give some relief for a time but the pain would always come back. I now realize it wasn’t so much what I was doing but how I was doing it.”

“To address the patient, dentists usually have to come down and to the left. To be downward directed and unilaterally collapsed can lead to all kinds of woes up and down the spine.”

“Most dental procedures last from an hour to three or four hours. It can be intense to be in a held position doing precise minute activity. There’s a different way to do this from an open easy attitude.”

“I feel better now than I did 30 years ago and I am thankful to the Alexander Technique for being able to say that.”

“Dentistry is done sitting down.”

“The atlanto-occipital joint. I want you to imagine that on your shirt is a row of buttons. I want you to look down at the third button. It’s on the lower half of your sternum. Bring your hand to the back of your neck and see if the cervical spine of your neck is engaged while you are looking down. There is a price to be paid while you look down at your patient if the neck is involved in that activity more than it needs to be.”

“I’d like you to put your fingers underneath your ears. Do that with one finger on each side of your head and then imagine there is a rod between your fingers. This rod would pass through the atlanto-occipital joint. This is the head-neck joint. This is where the head rests on top of the spine. If you could visualize that when you look down, that downward motion of the front of your face is going to rotate around this axis, looking down is done from an open attitude.”

Robert: “When I show students that, I have them put their fingertips at right angles to their head where their ear hole is and I tell them to imagine between your two fingertips. Nod your head back and forth and know that you are rotating your head around that line. Most students will notice that the movement seems freer and easier. The neck is available to you but not the best thing to use first.

“The same thing applies to sideway movements of the head. Imagine that line between the two fingertips and imagine a vertical axis in the middle and when you turn your head from side to side, know that you are rotating around that vertical axis.”

Martin: “It’s good to have feedback from your feet. Let your feet share the load while you’re sitting. The more simple the chair you have, the better. Any time you come off the height of your sit bones, you’re introducing muscular tension to your body and constricting your breathing.”

In his next interview, Martin says: “The breath is the canary in the coal mine. If your breath is restricted and you find you can only take shallow breaths, you know that somewhere in your musculoskeletal system, there’s a compression or restriction or you’re off balance.”

“You’ll benefit from allowing your jaw to be free while working. There are parts of the body that are filters for tension such as shoulders and jaws. You can even see muscles bulging on the side of people’s jaws while they’re concentrating on a task. There’s a direct correlation between a tight jaw and a tight neck.

“You can bring your hand gently to the back of your neck and bring your jaw to a tense held position. You might even think a thought such as, ‘Ohmigod, I have to hurry up.’ You can’t have a free jaw if you have a tight neck and vice versa.”

Robert: “The joint between the jaw and the head is not a hinge joint.”

“The temptation in doing precise work is to focus all of your attention, particularly visual attention, on one area. You do that at quite a cost to the rest of you. Don’t forget your back even though it does not seem involved in what you’re doing.”

Martin: “People say, how can I think of all these things while I’m engaged in a complex task? I say, through practice, you can become more aware of where you are in space. That’s kinaesthetic awareness. Alexander Technique helps you gain this self-knowledge.”

Robert: “It’s a light awareness. It’s not concentration.”

Martin: “It’s like a background hum.”

About Luke Ford

I've written five books (see Amazon.com). My work has been followed by the New York Times, the Los Angeles Times, and 60 Minutes. I teach Alexander Technique in Beverly Hills (Alexander90210.com).
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