Bed rest, once a key part of treating back pain, has a limited role in healing sore backs. In very small doses, bed rest can give you a break when standing or sitting causes severe pain. Too much may make back pain worse. Here is how to do bed rest "right."
To get the most from staying in bed, limit the time you are lying down to a few hours at a stretch, and for no longer than a day or two. You can rest on a bed or sofa, in any comfortable position. To ease the strain on your back, try putting pillows under your head and between your knees when lying on your side, under your knees when lying on your back, or under your hips when lying on your stomach. These positions reduce forces that sitting or standing impose on the back — especially on the discs, ligaments, and muscles.
An extended period of bed rest isn't helpful for moderate back strain at any stage of therapy. While your back may feel a little better in the short term, too much time in bed can trigger other problems. Muscles lose conditioning and tone, you may develop digestive issues such as constipation, and there is some risk of developing blood clots in the veins of your pelvis and legs. And being on prolonged bed rest does nothing for your mental health and sense of well-being. Depression, as well as an increased sense of physical weakness and malaise, is common among people confined to bed.
Is it okay to try to get active as quickly as possible? Well-designed clinical trials suggest that an early return to normal activities — with some rest as needed — is better than staying home from work for an extended period.
For more on healing your aching back, buy Back Pain, a Special Health Report from Harvard Medical School.