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Is Bed Rest Needed for All Spine Ailments?

Written by
Dr. Shakti Amar Goel
and medically reviewed by iCliniq medical review team.

Published on Jan 08, 2019 and last reviewed on Aug 12, 2022   -  4 min read


Bed rest is a commonly preferred treatment for spine issues. Read the article below to take an insight into this practice.

Is Bed Rest Needed for All Spine Ailments?


Since times immemorial, spine surgery has seen a massive revolution. However, the myth of remaining on the bed or a complete bed rest has existed for a long time. This myth is not only prevalent among patients but also among various physicians or practitioners.

Many times, a patient with back pain is advised to stay in bed and take medicines. Recent advances have reported that many ailments of the back heal better when activities, good posture, and medicines are incorporated together along with physiotherapy.

There are a few exceptions to this, such as infections of the spine. In ailments like disc prolapse with intact neurology, or back pain due to postural issues, it is recommended that the patient continues walking for at least 4 km a day along with customized exercises and medicines. As the muscles become stronger, the medicines are tapered, and exercises are made a part of the daily routine.

Bed rest has a limited role in treating aching backs. In minimum doses, bed rest provides a break from severe pain that occurs when standing or sitting. Increased bed rest worsens the back pain.

To get the maximum benefit from staying in bed, restrict the time that you lie down to some hours at a stretch, and for no longer than a day or two. You can lie down on a bed or a sofa, in a comfortable position. To decrease the strain on the back, put pillows under the head and between the knees when lying on one side, under the knees when lying on the back, or under the hips when lying on the stomach. Such positions lower the forces that are imposed on the back while sitting or standing, particularly on the discs, ligaments, and muscles.

A prolonged period of bed rest does not help in the moderate back strain at any phase of the therapy. The back may feel a little better in the short term but, an increased time in bed can trigger other issues. The muscles tend to lose their conditioning and tone, and you may have digestive problems like constipation, and the risk of having blood clots in the veins of the pelvis and legs. And being on extended bed rest does not aid in mental health status or sense of well-being. Depression, and a higher sense of physical weakness and malaise, are found among folks confined to bed.

Another common query that exists amongst patients is the use of a lumbar belt. The belts have shown to be of little benefit to the patients (in the long run) due to their ability to cause loss of power of abdominal muscles. Instead of wearing a belt from the outside, the patients should work on core-strengthening exercises and make a belt of their own with the muscles.

It is, however, recommended to consult a spine surgeon physically to know about the customized exercises which are recommended along with the protocol for the use of a belt. Gone are the days when mobility restriction was considered the best treatment.

Aristotle stated 'Life is a movement and movement is life.' Despite being late, this saying finally holds the truth.

What Are the Exercises to Prevent Spine Ailments?

Besides preventing back pain, exercises help in the following ways:

  • Improves posture.

  • Strengthens the back and abdomen, and improves their flexibility.

  • Aids in losing weight.

  • Avoid falls.

A complete exercise plan should incorporate aerobic activities like walking, swimming, or riding a stationary bicycle. It should also involve stretching and strength training. Start with light cardiovascular exercise. Aerobic activities can aid in improving the blood flow to the back and promote healing. They also provide strength to the abdominal and back muscles.

Stretching and strengthening training is essential in the long run. However, starting these exercises too soon after an injury can worsen the pain. Strengthening the abdominal muscles can lower the stress on the back. A physical therapist can help in determining when to start stretching and strengthening exercises and how to carry them out.

Avoid doing the following exercises during recovery, unless the doctor or the physical therapist recommends them:

  • Jogging.

  • Contact and racquet sports.

  • Golf.

  • Dance.

  • Weight lifting.

  • Leg lifts when lying on the stomach.

  • Sit-ups.

What Other Measures Should Be Taken to Prevent Spine Ailments?

To prevent back pain, the following tips should be adopted:

  • Take help for a too heavy or awkward object.

  • Spread the feet apart to give you a wide base of support when sitting.

  • Stand in the closest proximity to the object that you are lifting.

  • Bend your knees, not your waist when lifting.

  • Tighten the abdominal muscles when lifting or lowering the object.

  • Hold the object as close to the body as possible.

  • Lift the object using your leg muscles.

When you stand up while holding the object, do not bend forward. Try to keep the back straight.

Also, do not twist while you are bending to get the object, lifting it up, or carrying it.

Other precautions to be taken to prevent back spine ailments are:

  • Avoid standing for prolonged periods. If you need to stand for your work, place a stool near your feet. Alternate resting one foot each time on the stool.

  • Do not go for high heels. Wear footwear that has cushioned soles.

  • When sitting, particularly when using a computer, assure that you use a chair that has a straight back.

  • Use a stool under your feet while sitting so that your knees are higher than your hips.

  • Put a small pillow or a rolled towel behind the lower back while sitting or driving for a long time.

  • When you drive long-distance, halt and walk around every hour, and do not lift heavy objects just after a long ride.

  • Avoid smoking.

  • Maintain optimal weight.

  • Learn relaxing methods like yoga, tai chi, or a massage.


It is a common myth that bed rest is the treatment for all spine ailments. The current scenario and literature show that mobilization and activities may provide additional benefits to the patients than bed rest. However, personal consultation and customized exercises are required before coming to a conclusion.

Frequently Asked Questions


Is Bed Rest Required for Back Pain?

In earlier days, bed rest was recommended when an individual experienced back pain. This may be beneficial for individuals with severe back pain. However, recent studies have confirmed that bed rest for more than two days can worsen the condition.


What Type of Injuries Require Bed Rest?

Bed rest is required in conditions in which an individual is unable to move without the help and assistance of others. Other common conditions that may require bed rest are mentioned below:
- Stroke.
- Cardiac arrest.
- Brain damage.
- Myasthenia gravis.
- Spinal cord injury.


Does Spinal Stenosis Require Bed Rest?

Individuals with spinal stenosis are advised to avoid bed rest for long periods. This is because a prolonged duration in bed could further strain the back muscles. This may cause unnecessary stress and back pain.


Is Resting or Moving Better With Back Pain?

Depending on the severity of the condition and the health conditions of an individual, resting or mobility will be recommended accordingly. Moving is better preferred during back pain to avoid triggering factors that may harm the body.


Does a Bulging Disc Heal With Bed Rest?

A bulging or herniated disc can cause severe pain if left undiagnosed for a while. Most individuals experience pain for a short duration which disappears on its own. However, anti-inflammatories and painkillers are given to control the symptoms.


How to Differentiate Spondylosis and Spondylitis?

Although spondylosis and spondylitis may have similar name structures, they could be completely different. Spondylitis refers to the wear and tear of joints caused due to age-related factors. On the other hand, spondylosis is an autoimmune condition in which the body's cells affect an individual.


What Is the Duration of Rest for Lower Back Pain?

The exact duration of rest for lower back pain is yet to be known. However, it usually varies from about two days to two weeks, depending on the severity of the pain. Although resting for a longer duration may aggravate the condition.


What Is the Best Posture for Lower Back Pain?

It is crucial to maintain a proper balance and to distribute weight equally throughout the body without stressing or overloading a particular group of muscles. Keeping an erect posture can be extremely helpful. In addition, adjusting the table and chair height individual’s comfort level and balancing weight on both feet can be beneficial.


Can an Individual With Spinal Stenosis Climb Stairs?

Spinal stenosis affects the spinal cord, especially the nerves within it. People with spinal stenosis can climb limited stairs. However, they may require a support system to lean on, like a cane or walking stick.


What Should Be Avoided During Bed Rest?

The physician may advise the patient to avoid heavy lifting and strenuous exercise during bed rest. It is better to relax and help the body heal completely. Change positions to avoid bed sores or deep vein thrombosis while on bed rest.


Can Lying Flat Help With Back Pain?

Most people tend to find comfort while lying flat on the back. Also, a pillow for support could cushion and help with the pain. Maintaining the curvature of the spinal cord while using a pillow and keeping the spine in a neutral position is essential.

Last reviewed at:
12 Aug 2022  -  4 min read




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