Bed Rest Ineffective for Back Pain

Research indicates that bed rest is not effective for treating either back pain or sciatica.  Bed rest is often prescribed/recommended for patients with acute low back pain, despite a fair amount of research indicating that it is not helpful.(1,2)  New research now indicates that bed rest is also not helpful for treating sciatica (pain that radiates down the leg).(3)  In fact, bed rest has been found not to be effective for the treatment of any condition.(4)

And since bed rest can result in cardiovascular deconditioning, loss of bone mass, and atrophy and weakening of the back and other stabilizing muscles of the spine, it may be harmful in the long run.(5)  Bed rest also results in the tendency towards an illness mentality, which makes recovering from the back injury more difficult.  Therefore, if you are unable to walk due to severe back pain, then by all means rest.  But if you can, go about some of your normal (light) activities, such as walking.  You may actually feel somewhat better from walking and other light activities.  But certainly avoid strenuous activities and activities that increase the pain, such as prolonged sitting and standing.  See a competent chiropractor or physician well versed in treating back pain as soon as possible after the pain starts.



1. Malmivaara A, Hakkinen U, Aro T, et al. The treatment of acute low back pain--bed rest, exercise, or ordinary activity. N Engl J Med. 1995; 332: 351-5.
2. Waddell G, Feder G, Lewis M. Systematic reviews of bed rest and advice to stay active for acute low back pain. Br J Gen Pract. 1997; 47: 647-52.
3. Vrooman PCAJ, De Krom MCTFM, Wilmink JT, Kester ADM, Knottnerus JA. Lack of effectiveness of bed rest for sciatica. N Engl J Med. 1999; 340: 418-23.
4. Allen C, Glasziou P, Del Mar C. Bed rest: a potentially harmful treatment needing more careful
evaluation. Lancet. 1999; 354:1229-33. 
5. Harper CM, Lyles YM. Physiology and complications of bed rest. J Am Geriatr Soc. 1988; 36: 1047-1054.