Control What You Can

Provided by: Pelton & Crane

chair

When you hear another dentist talk about intense back pain—the “so intense you can’t focus” kind of back pain—you might assume that this person is at the end of his or her career. Some aches and pains at the tail end of years spent in a bustling practice are to be expected—or so you tell yourself.

Pains Started in Dental School
For Dr. Desiree Walker, the pain wasn’t coming 20 years in—or even 10, or 5 for that matter. The pain in her neck and upper back started in dental school. The combination of a backpack weighed down with heavy laptop and books, hunching over that laptop and books to study, then hunching over patients and mannequins in clinic were all talking their toll.

“In school, nothing is custom-fit to your body and ergonomics is the last thing on your mind. The only thing you’re concerned about is passing,” Dr. Walker remembers. “When you’re experiencing pain in that context, you’re not searching for the source of the pain, just a cure.”

“I Knew Something Had to Change”
When the pain grew so intense that Dr. Walker found herself holding back tears during an in-clinic exam, she had a startling realization: “How can I treat patients for the next 30 years when I can’t make it through this exam? I couldn’t focus and it was scary. I knew that something had to change.”

What Healthy Looks Like
Consultations with physical therapists, sports medicine doctors and others led to a back brace, which was enough to get Dr. Walker through dental school, but she knew it was just a Band-Aid, not a permanent solution. Like many others before her, Dr. Walker didn’t waltz straight from graduation into her own custom office, but rather, into a position as an associate. This offered a level of customization not much improved from her days in the clinic.

Equipment Frustration Led to a Breakthrough
“I didn’t have any control over the equipment I was using; I just knew I didn’t like it,” she said. “I chose to focus on my stool and loupes, doing what I could to make sure I had the right angle.” The frustration on the equipment front led to a breakthrough, or as she put it, “what finally helped me over the edge from pain to pain-free.” It wasn’t some miracle drug, but movement that finally made the difference.

Need for a Better Position While Sitting and Treating
“With my physical therapist’s help, I realized I needed a better position while sitting down and treating, but he didn’t talk to me about exercise. That was something I could do, integrate movement and stretches throughout the day, and change the way I moved outside of the dental practice,” Dr. Walker shared.

“I went back to basic exercises with body weights and yoga. I joined the University of North Carolina Gymnastics Club, I was de-stressing and strengthening and I started doing better. I don’t have control over my environment, but I do over me and how I move. I then translated that back into my work day.”

When, two years ago, she was finally in a place to build the practice she wanted, she was in shape to have her equipment complement the total-body health routine she’d established, instead of counting on it to be the cure-all.

A Place of Her Own
It was the weekend that Dr. Walker came to Pelton & Crane’s Charlotte, North Carolina facility that she got the call saying she’d been approved for a construction loan to build her own practice. “The visit to Pelton’s Center of Excellence provided the wonderful framework for creating an amazing patient experience and then we get the call and I was just ready to go, ready to dive in. I had all this energy and passion and was hungry for a direction on how to express it,” she remembers. “And what I realized was that creating this experience wasn’t just for the patients, but for me. I wanted to enjoy it as well! If I wasn’t enjoying it, patients would sense that.

Thinking about all that I’d learned up to that moment, I knew that the body responds to the environment it’s in, and I wanted quality products and the right ergonomic set up for my body. Without energy, without health, your success and the ability to contribute will be limited. I was tired of having those limitations on me. This was my time.”

Now, two years into the practice, business is good and Dr. Walker feels incredible. “The energy I have is like what I had in high school,” she said with a laugh. “I’m able to practice with quality ergonomic equipment—like my patient chair and stool—and I’m able to take breaks. I build my own schedule, which is freeing, and if something isn’t right or doesn’t feel right, I can change it.”

Spreading the Ergonomic Gospel
Having experienced such a transformation in her own approach to clinical practice, as the boss, Dr. Walker is now helping spread the ergonomic gospel to her staff. “I’m always asking them how they’re feeling, because they’re not going to tell you otherwise. They’ll tell each other that their backs hurt, but not you. At the end of our huddle each morning, we stretch, check in with our bodies and talk about things other than the patient schedule. It is important, as a leader, to let staff know you care about their health,” she said. And, when that doesn’t work, she engages in some digital show-and-tell.

“Pelton & Crane’s Narrow Back Advantage™ app has a function to correctly identify improper positioning, so I’ll sneak up and take pictures of my hygienists and staff so that I can show them problem areas and discuss what they need. Being aware of your body’s position is crucial, and using new things like this to help is smart and really fun.”

Learn more about ergonomics and your health at http://www.ergonomics.pelton.net.

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