During an acute flare up of back pain it may sound good to go spend the day in bed. While a little bit of bed rest can be okay, a lot can do you more harm than good.
This line of thinking goes against past beliefs that bed rest is good for back pain. Prolonged bed rest will cause back pain to get worse in most cases for the following reasons:
- Loss of muscle tone: The muscles that support the spine and sustain posture will start to weaken quickly with prolonged bed rest
- Decrease in circulation: Both the muscles in the back/core and digestive organs receive less blood flow with prolonged bed rest. This can lead to tight painful muscles and constipation. Constipation can lead to straining during bowel movements which will increase back pain.
- Increased pressure in the structures of the back: Discs, ligaments, and joints can undergo major stress when placed in a position for a prolonged period of time. This leads to wear and tear on the joints as well as a loss in elasticity of the ligaments, leading to further back problems.
- Mood changes: Depression and anxiety from prolonged bed rest can lead to an increased perception of and sensitivity to pain, starting a downward cycle of depression and pain that feed on and reinforce themselves.
A few hours of rest in the beginning is okay. For most people, laying on your back with your knees bent and supported by pillows is the most comfortable position. Try to get up and walk after an hour or two and return to normal activities as soon as possible. Back belts can be used in the short term to get moving but should be weaned off of as soon as possible. Learn to use the body’s “natural back belt”, aka your core, to support your back as you walk around and go about your day. For more detailed information about activating your core, see my previous blogs. Get moving!