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The worst thing you can do if you have back pain

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Is bed rest good for back pain?

In this article we discuss if bed rest if a good treatment option for lower back pain. Many patients visit chiropractic clinics with lower back pain complaints. They often ask ‘should I rest in bed’?

Let’s discuss if this is something recommended or not

Initially experiencing acute back pain, it would be very tempting to lie in bed and wait for the pain to go away. 50 years ago this might have even been the advice your Doctor would have given you.

Unfortunately this might be the worst advice that could be given to a person with back pain.

Research has shown “Bed rest for 2–7 days is worse than placebo” and according to the Cochrane review of 20051 “There is high quality evidence that advice to rest in bed is less effective than advice to stay active for people with acute simple LBP.”


What happens when I stay in bed for too long?

Staying in bed for too long can cause muscle weakness.

Basically if you don’t use it you loose it.

For every day you stay in bed, your supporting core muscles get weak.

Furthermore, the immobility can start to tighten up your muscles, hips, and ligaments with can severely decrease your flexibility. A stiff and weak spine unfortunately causes faulty movement patterns that further perpetuate back pain in the future.

That means bed rest and inactivity would likely give you a higher chance of turning a short term acute back pain episode to a long term chronic back problem.

Who should be prescribed bed rest?

Practically no one. Unless there is a spinal instability condition, bed rest or immobilising the spine maybe prescribed before surgery.

How many days rest for lower back pain?

There really is no definitive answer to this question. Some short term bed rest may provide some relief in some cases, however we don’t recommend bed rest that often.

Bed rest and back pain studies

Recent strong evidence indicates that long periods of bed rest does not improve patient outcomes (pain, disability, days missed from work, or functional ability).

In fact a randomised controlled trial published in The New England Journal of Medicine2 comparing bed rest, exercise, and routine care showed that bed rest was strongly associated with three negative health outcomes. These outcomes were more days off from work, intensity of pain, and disability.

What to do?

There is a difference between hurting yourself and harming yourself.

For example, it probably wouldn’t be best for someone with an acute back to get straight into 100+kg deadlifts as there would be higher risk of harming themselves.

However light walking or even pool walking might be suggested as appropriate exercise to get the joints, ligaments moving, as well as getting some of the core muscles activated even if it does cause a little bit of hurt.

It would always be advisable that you consult with a health practitioner before starting any exercise to ensure your not harming yourself.

Some people try using ice or heat therapy to find relief from pain. You can read more about that here.

When should I see a practitioner?

It’s often hard to ascertain if an acute low back incident is a benign one that will go away over a couple of days or a serious one that has the potential to become chronic. It would be ideal that you see a practitioner whenever:

  • Back pain is severe enough to effect daily living
  •  You were involved in a definite trauma e.g a car accident
  •  Has persisted past 2 day of pain

A qualified practitioner such as a chiropractor or physiotherapist will be able to take a full history and examination and will be able to advice you on appropriate treatment options for your back pain.

Chiropractic and acute low back pain

A chiropractic adjustment is a treatment that involves pushing a joint to its full range of motion. What this does is it stretches stiff joints and ligaments. Research also shows that it also assists in activating nearby muscles. Therefore, assisting a person with acute low back pain from losing their flexibility and core strength.

What About Chiropractic Care?

If you want to address your back pain, contact our clinic in Dulwich Hill today.

My Back Relief Clinic

Suite B 390 New Canterbury Rd, Dulwich Hill NSW 2203

Phone 02 9560 0184


  1. Hagen KB1, Jamtvedt G, Hilde G, Winnem MF. The updated cochrane review of bed rest for low back pain and sciatica. Spine (Phila Pa 1976). 2005 Mar 1;30(5):542-6.
  2. Malmivaara A, Hakkinen V, Aro T, et al. Treatment of acute low back pain: bed rest, exercises, or ordinary activity? N Engl J Med 1995;332:351.
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