Back Pain and Bed Rest

The most important thing to do with back pain is to avoid movement and pretty much go on bed rest, right?

Some things in life simply make sense, like the importance of eating healthy food and consistently getting a good night’s sleep. Even when we get hurt, it is often obvious what to do. If there is a wound that is bleeding, we need to stop the flow of blood as fast as possible. In the case of a broken bone, the first step is to stabilize the area and then get to the doctor. If we sustain some sort of injury to the back, we stop doing whatever it was we were doing that caused it and prevent further damage by crawling into bed as quickly as we can get there. Right? 

In the not too distant past, the answer to whether bed rest is the best choice for back pain would have been easy. Today, it’s more like one of those “yes” and “no” situations. Most health care professionals advise bed rest immediately after the trauma that created the pain but also stipulate that the duration should be strictly limited. In 24 to, at most, 72 hours, the individual should be up and engaged in normal, nonstrenuous activities, even if this is only walking.  

Not only does current research indicate that prolonged periods of bed rest are not beneficial for back pain recovery, it appears that the opposite is actually more the case. While inactivity may initially reduce the pain by relieving pressure on the affected spinal discs, after more than a few days, the effects of the inactivity can potentially have more serious consequences. Some of the most common of these include:

  • An increase in pain
  • Weakening of muscles
  • Stiffness
  • Atrophy of muscles at the rate of up to 1.5% each day
  • Cardiopulmonary deconditioning, which is what astronauts experience with prolonged weightlessness
  • Bone degradation from loss of minerals
  • Blood clot risk increases
  • Ligaments and tendons lose flexibility
  • Spinal discs lose flexibility due to loss of nutrients
  • Depression, if the period of inactivity persists
  • Wage loss and family frictions

Bed Rest is Out and Alternative Therapies Are In

The most important thing to do when you sustain an injury to your back is to consult with your physician as soon as possible. Initial suggestions will generally include a short period of rest, combined with over the counter pain medications and icing during the first 24 hours or so, followed by heat. If the pain has not significantly decreased after a few days, then, along with the traditional recommendations of physical therapy, exercise and steroid injections, many physicians are currently adding what have always been considered “alternative” type therapies. The most popular of these are:

  • Yoga
  • Acupuncture
  • Massage
  • Meditation or mindfulness-oriented methods designed to lower stress

The good news is that doctors and patients are finding that these methods, in conjunction with much shorter periods of inactivity, are resulting in a high level of success. This means far fewer pain medications, with their dangerous side effects, are being prescribed, and surgery, which has proven to be less successful than originally believed, is seldom presented as an option. 

At Long Island Spine Rehabilitation Medicine, our physicians are committed to more than just treating your symptoms. We strongly believe that each individual is best served through an integrative treatment plan. We focus on finding the underlying cause and providing non-surgical, evidence-based solutions tailored to your specific condition and needs. If you are experiencing back pain or have questions about any other condition or service, we invite you to schedule a consultation by using our convenient online form by clicking here