The role of body position and gravity in the symptoms and treatment of various medical diseases

Swiss Med Wkly. 2004 Sep 18;134(37-38):543-51.


Postural medicine studies the effects of gravity on human body functions and the ability to influence various diseases by changing the body's position. Orthostasis requires numerous cardiovascular and neurohumoral adaptations to prevent hypotension and a resulting decrease in cerebral perfusion. Sitting upright or in a semi-sitting position reduces venous return in patients with heart failure, intracranial pressure in patients with intracranial hypertension, intraocular pressure in glaucoma patients and may decrease gastro-oesophageal reflux. A left recumbent posture also decreases reflux. A right lateral position results in a lower sympathetic tone than lying on the left side and is beneficial in patients with heart failure or after an infarction without bradycardia. A 40 to 70% decreased prevalence of the sudden infant death syndrome has been observed since the recommendation to avoid laying infants to sleep in a prone position. Sleeping in a supine posture increases the severity of sleep apnoea compared to a lateral position. In patients with acute respiratory distress syndrome, a prone position can rapidly improve blood oxygenation. Idiopathic oedema, orthostatic proteinuria, intradiscal pressure and venous circulation in legs are improved in the decubitus position, whereas arterial flow is reduced. Health risks due to microgravity and prolonged bed rest, such as osteoporosis, venous thrombosis or pressure sores, are discussed.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Cardiovascular Diseases / therapy*
  • Digestive System Diseases / therapy
  • Gravitation*
  • Humans
  • Infant
  • Posture / physiology*
  • Respiratory Tract Diseases / therapy*