Bed Rest to Treat Lower Back Pain: When does it become excessive?


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Back pain is one of the most common reasons to see a doctor. The good news is that the pain often goes away on its own and usually gets better after a week or two. Many people want to stay in bed when their back hurts. In fact, bed rest has long been the usual recommendation. But current studies recommend avoiding bed rest altogether. Staying in bed for more than 48 hours is of no benefit and may even delay recovery. Here’s why :

Bed Rest Will Not Help you Recover Faster.

If the pain is severe, a day in bed to relieve the distress may seem like a good idea. However, on the contrary, to control symptoms more effectively, it is better to moderate your activities but remain active in a limited way. Research suggests that if you can find comfortable positions and keep moving, you may not need bed rest at all. Here’s what the research shows:

  • Staying in bed for more than a day or two doesn’t help with back pain.
  • You can recover faster without bed rest.
  • The sooner you start to move, even just a little bit, or resume activities such as walking, the faster your condition is likely to improve.

Prolonged Bed Rest Can Slow Recovery.

Prolonged bed rest can cause stiffness and increase pain. When you don’t move and bend your body, you lose muscle strength and flexibility. Bed rest causes you to lose about 1% of muscle strength per day. And you can even lose up to 20-30% muscle strength in a week. It then becomes more difficult to resume activities. As muscle weakness and stiffness increases, recovery takes longer.

Who Needs Bed Rest?

Almost nobody! Only people who have an unstable spine fracture and are awaiting surgery may need to stay in bed.

How to relieve the pain?

The application of hot or cold compresses is often effective. Some people get pain relief by taking pain relievers or over-the-counter anti-inflammatories such as ibuprofen (Advil, Motrin) or naproxen (Aleve). However, no medication should be taken for an extended period.

When should I see my doctor?

Consult your doctor immediately in the following situations:

  • You have had severe and continuous back pain for more than 48 hours.
  • You have severe and continuous back pain and a fever.
  • You have back pain that is accompanied by numbness, pain, or weakness in one or both legs, or one or both feet. Your leg symptoms are more disabling than your back symptoms.
  • You have back pain and onset of numbness in the genital area (or genitals) or changes in the ability to control the bladder or bowels.

Manage back pain by exercising regularly and getting professional help if needed.

If you have an episode of severe, ongoing back pain that does not improve, it may be a good idea to see a healthcare professional who specializes in back problems and other musculoskeletal disorders. These practitioners could use passive and active techniques to treat your pain. Here are examples of passive techniques that could be used to help you move:

  • Cold or heat
  • Ultrasound
  • Manipulation (massage and movement).

Active approaches like walking or aquafitness are usually the most effective. Exercise is often the best way to relieve lower back pain.

Ask your doctor for advice before starting an exercise program.

Work with an expert. It may be helpful to work with someone who can explain the activities that are right for you (i.e. a medical professional) such as a physiotherapist.

Choose physical activities that you enjoy doing. Lots of activities can help relieve back pain. Try to include activities that strengthen the muscles around the core, abdominal muscles, and lower back muscles. Studies show that the following activities can help relieve back pain:

  • Lifting light weights
  • To do yoga
  • Walk and use a treadmill
  • Do aquafitness.

Avoid causing more pain. Avoid exercises that trigger your back pain. Some activities can cause temporary pain without causing harm. Consult a trained therapist to learn how to distinguish between activities that can cause pain without causing harm and those that can cause harm.

At first, you may want to avoid doing sit-ups with straight legs, leg raises while lying on your back, shoulder presses, or bicep curls while standing. As you start to improve, you can add more complex exercises to strengthen the back and deep core muscles.

Participate in an exercise program for people with chronic back pain. It’s often easier to stick with the program if you don’t try to do it on your own.

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