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Motion is Lotion – Why Too Much Bed Rest is a Bad Idea


For decades, the treatment for low back pain included bed rest and heat. It turns out these are two of the worst things you can do for a new injury. In a previous post, we covered when (and why) to ice or heat. Let’s discuss why too much bed rest is a bad idea.

Our spines have joints (“facet joints” [fuh-set]) that contain a greasy, oily (or highly viscous, like egg whites) fluid called synovial fluid. This synovial fluid lubricates the joints with movement. Too little motion contributes to increased stiffness. (By the way, the popping or cracking sound heard during manipulation is actually made by the release of gases from this synovial fluid.)

Extended periods of bed rest can result in a loss of muscle tone and even atrophy (“wasting away”) of muscle tissue. Lengthy inactivity can even lead to blood clots (DVT or deep vein thrombosis).

Now, we’re not recommending OVERactivity for new injuries, either. “Frequent, gentle movement in a tolerable zone” is the thing to remember. You’ll be getting up to get your ice pack and then getting up 20 minutes later to put the ice pack back in the freezer. Make sure you move around or at least change positions in the intervening 40 minutes before icing again.

Try icing in different positions: on your side with your knees bent (fetal position) and a pillow between your knees; on your back with your knees bent (put a pillow or two under your knees); in a recliner with knees bent, etc. (Note: bending your knees relaxes both your hamstring muscles and the sciatic nerve, and usually helps relieve back pain.)

So, motion is indeed lotion. Forget about planting yourself on the couch, binge watching that television series while laying on a heating pad; unless, of course, you want more time off!

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