You Said It: Can the Power of Positioning Help Those Suffering With COVID-19?


Many are familiar with the need for movement and exercise to enhance health and wellness. Less familiar perhaps is the concept of the power of positioning our bodies to promote health and wellness.

During the height of the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic, one innovative approach to saving lives has been to reposition patients with the disease from supine to prone—or lying face down. By positioning the human body in this manner—without any manual pressure—the natural pressure to the upper chest area is relieved and redistributed allowing for easier respiration. The success rate of severely ill patients recovering from COVID-19 using this technique (along with more traditional medical procedures such as medication) has been significant.

This success introduces us to the power of positioning the human body in everyday life.

An estimated 11 to 40 percent of adults in the U.S. report chronic pain, one of the most common diagnosis in the U.S..

My husband, 70, is one of them. He experiences debilitating back pain and after seeing his primary care physician and an orthopedist, was diagnosed with a slightly protruding disk at the level of C 4-5. He began prescribed physical therapy and received a cortisone shot to reduce inflammation.

Yet, he was still bothered by the pain and limitations in his movement. While he was in outpatient care for this medical condition of chronic back pain when the COVID-19 pandemic struck, forcing both he and I to quarantine at home.

Since I was no longer at work during the daytime hours, I was at home to see his posture while working at his desk and while sitting on the couch. And, he was not really sitting, but rather slouching over a chair and footstool.

Dr. Linda Olsen, a colleague who heads the educational program in occupational therapy at Rush University, advised he use an ergonomically correct chair while working at his desk. The Occupational Safety and Health Administration has similar recommendations for working on a computer at a desk. Almost immediately after using the new ergonomically correct chair, he was in an appropriate sitting position. After about two weeks, he complained less about pain.

As a professor of occupational therapy, I wonder which intervention accounted for his reduced pain—the chair itself, the physical therapy or the medication. In theory, that is what controlled clinical trials can tell us. But perhaps correct positioning of his body allowed the other interventions to fully work.

Another example is the effect of support and positioning on  bunions. Research shows bunions affect 23 percent of people aged 18 to 65, with 36 percent of those older than 65 having bunions.

I am one of them and have large bunions on both feet. I wear stylish but functional shoes that support the high arches in my feet.  Athletic shoes are my favorite shoe to wear walking to and from work since the cushioning and arch support afford pain free walking.  A 2005 study shows proper shoes are a positioning device to promote foot health.

The power of physical positioning can affect how we function on a daily basis across the course of our life span. It is not just movement that contributes to health and wellness, but specifically how we position ourselves sitting, standing or laying, during daily occupations that also enhances our health and wellness.

My office at the hospital has a standing desk. Working from home, I use an ergonomically correct chair during the COVID quarantine.

Whether in the workplace, at home or out in the world, the position of the body may be able to improve functional ability, reduce pain or stress. It seems for many that simple and obvious solutions are not always the first options. Instead many opt for more complex interventions such as drugs and medications to solve position challenges.

But simply understanding and employing the power of positioning may offer relief, remedy and comfort.

More from Better:

Charlotte Royeen Charlotte Royeen is Dean, College of Health Sciences of Rush University, Professor of Occupational Therapy and A.Watson Armour III Presidential Professor.

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