Recovery Postures: What are they and how can they help us?

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To talk about recovery postures, we need to talk about excess sitting. In today’s sedentary world, sitting has become synonymous with modern life. Whether at work, in transit, or unwinding at home, the average person spends between 5 to 10 hours per day seated. With over 80% of the population facing back issues at some point and a similar percentage failing to meet physical activity recommendations, we could use a lifestyle change.

With approximately 75% of healthcare visits for back pain resulting in medication prescriptions, mainly NSAIDs, it seems we could take the quality of care up a notch. In Portugal, as in many countries, the economic burden of back pain is substantial, encompassing diagnosis, treatment, and management costs, estimated at 50-100 billion USD globally each year.

By now research has shed light on the ill health effects bouts of prolonged sitting can have on our spine and general health:

  • Increased stiffness and discomfort in the spine;
  • Reduced spinal height and range of motion;
  • Contributes to disc degeneration;
  • Reduced blood flow;
  • Poorer metabolic health.

Some research has shed light on how interventions such as changing posture more frequently during the day seem to offer some promise in limiting your chances of having spinal problems (2).

“Compared to sitting all the time at work, sitting ≤75% of the time showed significantly lower risks for poor general health (OR range 0.50–0.65), and sitting between 25 and 75% of the time showed significantly lower risks (OR 0.82–0.87) for often reported back/neck pain.

For participants reporting sitting half of their working time or more, breaking up workplace sitting occasionally or more often showed significantly lower OR than seldom breaking up workplace sitting; OR ranged from 0.40–0.50 for poor health and 0.74–0.81 for back/neck pain. Sitting almost all the time at work and not taking breaks is associated with an increased risk for self-reported poor general health and back/neck pain. People sitting almost all their time at work are recommended to take breaks from prolonged sitting, exercise regularly, and decrease their leisure time sitting to reduce the risk for poor health. (3,4)”

Recovery Postures examples:

Before you run out and buy a standing desk, keep in mind that similar challenges are faced with standing in a static position for excess time. The point is that we should look to add more movement into our day, shift between sitting and standing more frequently, perform structured exercise regularly, and if we want to take extra care of our spine you can implement what is called “recovery postures” throughout the day (1).

These are basically pauses to spend some moments taking your joints and tissues through ranges of motion that you neglect as you spend time sedentary. I suggest most people spend 10 minutes getting into some of these postures at home at the end of the day, in addition. (See images above above). Don’t worry that they are stick figures, we will post some recovery postures in video format this weekend.

What’s unique about these postures? Nothing really, they are simply positions that introduce a bit more variety to your day than what you encounter while seated or sedentary and this appears to be really good for your spine and your health. Unless you have a really unique chair/job you’re likely not spending much time with your shoulders overhead, with your spine or hips in extension, or with any positions of trunk rotation, to mention a few. You don’t have to make it too complicated. These are basically a few select poses that can help you change up your posture for a little while.

Start with deciding on a few break periods you’ll take during the day, ideally, they break up periods of sitting of 2 hours or more, if not more frequently. These breaks can be anywhere from 5 minutes to 20 minutes. The more breaks the better and the longer the better. All you will do is divide up that time into a little recovery position circuit. If I only had 5 minutes I would do 1 minute of each or 30 seconds of each done twice and so on.

Look out for the recovery positions video on Instagram and YouTube this week.

  1. Beach, Tyson A.C. et al.Effects of prolonged sitting on the passive flexion stiffness of the in vivo lumbar spine. The Spine Journal, Volume 5, Issue 2, 145 – 154
  2. Phimphasak, C., Swangnetr, M., Puntumetakul, R., Chatchawan, U., & Boucaut, R. (2016). Effects of seated lumbar extension postures on spinal height and lumbar range of motion during prolonged sitting. Ergonomics, 59, 112 – 120.
  3. Alexander, L., Hancock, E., Agouris, I., Smith, F., & MacSween, A. (2007). The Response of the Nucleus Pulposus of the Lumbar Intervertebral Discs to Functionally Loaded Positions. Spine, 32, 1508-1512.
  4. Helander, M., & Quance, L. (1990). Effect of work-rest schedules on spinal shrinkage in the sedentary worker. Applied ergonomics, 21 4, 279-84.

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