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Why Bed Rest Is The Wrong Answer for Back Pain

It’s easy to understand why so many people retreat to their beds or easy chairs when they’re experiencing back pain. Bedrest is not only a traditional way to recover, but it also is one of our ultimate forms of comfort – after all, when you were a child and not feeling well, didn’t your mom spoil you by loading up your bed with pillows and then spoiling you there with your favorite foods?

Unfortunately, that nostalgic solution can do more harm than good.

There’s no question that rest is the appropriate answer to injury or recovery, but there’s a big difference between total bed rest and not exacerbating trauma.  Staying in bed and not using our muscles can actually make us feel worse and lead to a process of deconditioning that ends up doing us more harm than good. Here are a few of the ways that bed rest can work against you when you’re suffering from back pain:

  • Deconditions your muscles and bones – To keep your muscles, joints and bones healthy, you need to use them. Stay in bed for a period of more than a few days and your muscle strength will drop significantly. That not only leads to a loss of balance and coordination, but it also means your bones can lose density. Most importantly, weaker muscles contribute to poor posture, and this can make back pain worse.
  • Your cardiovascular system likes to be upright – Did you know that your heart and lungs have to work harder when you’re laying down than when you’re upright? The heart has to beat faster to move blood around as effectively, and that sometimes means that the normal volume of blood is not being moved through the body. And the lungs have a harder time removing excess fluid when you’re horizontal. Since your blood carries vital healing nutrients and oxygen, bedrest slows the process.
  • Your digestion slows down – When you’re lying in bed, everything slows down, and this can lead to constipation and other stomach issues.

There’s no doubt that back pain is a time to cut down on your activities, but that does not mean that it’s time to become a couch potato or to turn your bed into your command center. You need to get up and move around in order to strengthen your muscles and keep blood flowing into the areas that are injured. Movement helps to reduce pain and swelling, and increased blood flow helps to promote healing.

It may feel counterintuitive, but in most cases, being physically active in a controlled way is the best solution to back pain, as well as to post-surgical recovery. For specific information about what is recommended and what is prohibited, contact our office to set up an appointment with our back pain specialists and learn what types of exercise and activity are best for you, as well as what other remedies may be appropriate.