Tips for controlling upper back pain

As a dentist, you do many procedures that require a close visual field and fine, controlled movements of your hands for long periods of time.

Center for Professional SuccessThese procedures also require sustained postures and twisting and bending of your neck and upper back.  These postures and movements can place stress on your upper back and neck, contributing to the development of or aggravation of upper back pain.  This can impacts your well-being and the efficiency and productivity of your office.

As always, consult a physician for any persistent problem, but here are some tips for controlling upper back pain from the ADA Center for Professional Success.

  • Maintain proper posture.
  • Use magnification, such as loupes, and adequate lighting to bring your field of vision closer and decrease the extent to which your neck is held forward and flexed down.
  • Position the patient’s head at a level that gives you access to the oral cavity while being able to hold your shoulders in a relaxed, neutral position (rather than a hunched up position) and you are able to hold your elbows at about a ninety degree or less flexion.
  • When possible, use chair arms to support your upper arm or forearm when doing fine, precision work with your hands.
  • Wear properly fitting gloves.
  • Keep equipment in good working order.  Improperly maintained equipment can cause you to use unnecessary pressure and extra time when performing certain procedures.
  • Position equipment within easy reach and visibility to reduce repeated twisting of your neck or torso.
  • Take a break in between or during long or difficult cases.
  • When possible, set up your schedule to rotate long, difficult cases with short, easier cases.

Seek medical consultation for upper back pain, especially in the following instances:

  • After recent significant trauma, such as a fall, a motor vehicle accident or other such accidents.
  • When sleep is disrupted or pain is worse at night.
  • With a history of prolonged steroid use.
  • With a history of osteoporosis.
  • With a recent history of infection or a temperature over 100 degrees F.
  • Numbness or tingling in arms.
  • Severe, sudden headache.
  • Dizziness.

To read the full CPS article, which includes information on symptoms and causes, click here. The article is only available to ADA members.

Other resources on the topic include the American College of Sports Medicine, American Academy of Orthopedic Surgeons, American Physical Therapy Association.


  • These are some great tips. It’s very easy for a dentist to forget that how they sit might cause back pain. The software the dentist uses is important too. Here is an article about five ways dental software can improve your practice:

  • Thank you for sharing these tips for controlling upper back pain. I have never had any serious issues, but I stay seated for long periods of time while I am at work and I have had some recent pain because of this. Like you said, “maintain proper posture and take a break in between long cases.” If it continues to worsen, I may have to see a chiropractor to correct the problem. Thanks again!

  • Thanks for this nice article. All your Tips for controlling upper back pain is really good. Its help me to get rid my back pain. Thanks for nice post.
    For more health tips you can visit here..

  • Thanks for this nice article. All your Tips for controlling upper back pain is really good. Its help me to get rid my back pain. Thanks for nice post.
    For more health tips you can visit here..

  • Back pain really isn’t all that fun. If you are planning on going on vacation it’s important to be careful so you don’t have any back pain while on the trip. I think you bring up a good point to take a break and stretch. That’s always good for your body.

  • Thanks so much for post this tips! I’m really hoping this works for me. I have been having such pain in my upper back/shoulder region and I have been getting the worst sleep! I’ll update in a month or so. I will buy a tens unit and use it with your tips. I buy it at here and hope it words for me.

  • Nice and informative piece of content, actually when someone comes to my shop to get a massager for the upper back pain I first advise him/her to take rest for a week or two, because most of them are job holders who sit in offices from 9 to 5, they think that massage or massage chairs can resolve their issues but if they aren’t having proper rest, no massage can help them in long term. Your tips are really great, I’ll point my customers to your guide for better guidance. BTW I think these Shiatsu massage chairs are best for upper and lower back pains.

  • Ideas shared by you for controlling upper back pain are really effective and helpful. Being an expert, I would suggest that the most common cause of upper back pain is a muscle strain or mild arthritis. There are other conditions outside the spine that can also manifest as upper back pain, such as gastrointestinal problems or kidney stones. This can be treated with cold and sometimes alternating heat application will help.

  • Wow man awesome article. Your post has inspired me to take action with my back problem. I’ve had it for over 5 years now but have always neglected it because I thought it was common for my age.

    I’ve now started implementing the techniques for back problems and hopefully, the pain will start to go.

    Wish me luck.

  • True, a dentist is very susceptible to backpain as one needs to keep on bending in order to fix their patients teeth. A good remedy will be to use a chair and keep themselves at level while fixing their patients teeth or to use a massage equipment frequently that can be found here.

  • Are there any dentist chairs that would allow me to work on my patients standing up? I think that should alleviate a bunch of the problems in my back.

  • Thanks for the great advice, my wife has been suffering from some pretty bad back pain lightly and this might help while we search for a chiropractor for her. She’s been thinking about doing some yoga to help relieve the pain and a lot of these tips could go along with that. I think she could especially use some of the advice you give about how to properly strech and twist the muscles in the back.

  • Nice post. I am suffering from back pain and i am not able to sit or stand. Than after some time i buy massage chair at and its work for me. Now i am feeling much better.

  • Thanks for making this post. Interesting points. I, along with many people I know suffer from back pain on a regular basis. Interestingly over the years, I’ve noticed my own back getting worse. Hopefully ill figure out what the working solution for me is.

  • Great tips! If there’s anything I can add, that would be keeping a healthy lifestyle. Everyone, not just dentists, should remember that we all age, and so are our spine. Have a healthy diet rich in calcium to prevent osteoporosis. Maintain a healthy weight and do regular exercises. Also, one good stretching exercise that I know can help relieve upper back pain is by tucking your chin down and linking your arms together as you squeeze your shoulder blades together. Hold the position for a while (count up to five). Repeat several times a day. Hope these help!

  • Thanks for sharing this. My back pain is killing me! I am starting to do Yoga for body and mind wellness. This article is really helpful.
    What causes mid back spasms

  • Great Tips. Thanks. Also massage chair or cushion can be used to relieve pain. You can find some reviews here:

  • This is some really good information about upper back pain. I liked that you talked about maintaining a proper posture. That is something I have a huge problem keeping my posture in good shape. I wonder if an orthopedic doctor could help me with that.

  • Thanks so much for post this tips! I’m really hoping this works for me. What about back electric massagers?. I buy it at here and hope it works for me.

  • I have a pretty good article regarding 51 benefits of massage. It has a pretty good and thorough breakdown of things that massage does for you. Here is the link

  • I’ve been dealing with some pretty bad back pain lately, so it is nice to have some tips on how to deal with it. At the very least, some of these tips can definitely help me while I am looking around for a contractor. In particular, I’m going to have to try adjusting my computer at work so that I don’t have to lean down so far when I am working on it.

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