Get Off the Couch and Out of Bed

Why Bed Rest Doesn’t Do a Body Good

A recent study reported in Spine demonstrated that extended bed rest can actually injure the low back – including the joints, muscles and discs.

Nine healthy male subjects endured 60 days of enforced immobility. In addition to soft tissue findings, researchers reported that at the end of the study, 5 of the 9 men reported low back pain the first week after re-ambulation.

The researchers found that extended bed rest affects the natural curve in the low back (lordosis). The lordosis is established by 18 months of age, around the time a child stands. The lordosis should measure between 40 and 60 degrees in an adult. Bed rest decreases the degree of the curve which puts can put additional pressure on the disc. This pressure can reduce the natural ability of the disc to absorb shock.

The study also showed that bed rest increases disc height and muscle atrophy. These changes could easily increase biomechanical stress on the spine. A group of muscles mentioned by name in this study were the multifidi (deep muscles in the low back)which have the task of spinal stability. If the foundation is weakened, the multifidi muscles would need to work harder in order to pick up the slack of malfunctioning joints to stabilize the spine.

This study as a whole may help explain why some back pain patients report more low back symptoms when rising from bed after a night of immobile rest. Bed rest is not a good idea when nursing a low back injury in most cases. Movement, as simple as proper stretching and walking, promotes aerobic activity which brings fresh blood flow to the stabilization muscles. Keep it moving!