Too much bed rest actually increases back pain

Bed rest is the perfect remedy for certain conditions, but too much of it can be risky for your health. Not only will it eventually give you back pain, but too much of it can also lead to serious health problems.

If you are stressed or down with a condition that requires a timeout, such as flu, then a bed rest will do you a lot of good. Staying in bed too long can hurt your back though, according to a study that investigated the effects of prolonged bed rest on healthy individuals.

For this study, the researchers asked 10 male participants to go on bed rest for two weeks, after which the men were examined using magnetic resonance imaging (MRI). The researchers learned that two weeks of sedentary behavior caused the participants’ multifidus muscles, which help stabilize the lower back, to atrophy. Muscles that go through atrophy weaken and become smaller in size.

Furthermore, the men’s rectus abdominis, more popularly known as abs, and psoas muscles appeared to increase in thickness. The researchers clarified that this isn’t necessarily an improvement – rather, they hypothesized that the change could have been due to the said muscles becoming shorter or neurologically “overactive.”

The multifidus muscles took only four days to recover, but the psoas muscles took about a month to return to baseline. Unfortunately, the psoas muscles connect the lumbar spine and the legs. A reduction in its size and flexibility can pull on the lower back, causing chronic back pain.

The negative effects of prolonged bed rest

But that’s not the end of the story. Too much bed rest affects different parts of your body negatively. You are designed for movement, after all, and staying in bed too long is a form of deconditioning that makes you weaker and your body prone to disease.

The harmful effects of extended bed rest impact the following parts of the body:

  • Bones – It’s not just your muscles that become weakened when you don’t move, your bones, do too. Your bones are built to carry weight and staying in bed prevents them from doing their function. Sedentary behavior has been proven to make your bones thinner and more prone to fractures and breakage.
  • Cartilage and connective tissues – Your muscles and bones cannot function fully without tendons and cartilage. Tendons are the tissues that connect your muscles to your bones, while cartilage acts as a padding and lubricant so your joints can rotate and bend smoothly. Sedentary behavior weakens these tissues, affecting your ability to move as a result.
  • Heart and blood – Lying down for too long causes your heart to beat faster while pumping less blood. This lowers the amount of oxygen that gets into the different parts of your body, making you more prone to fatigue. Moreover, too much bed rest causes your blood to become pool in your legs and become stickier, putting you at greater risk of blood clots in your leg (deep vein thrombosis) and your lungs (pulmonary embolism).
  • Lungs – The different parts of your body function at their best when you are upright – this much is true even for your lungs. Extended bed rest causes blood and mucus to gather in your chest area. This effectively reduces your lung capacity. Your chest and abdominal muscles are also weaker when you are lying down, so coughing becomes less effective at removing excessive mucus. A horizontal position also causes your breathing to become shallower, leading to poor oxygen-carbon dioxide exchange. These factors increase your risk of pneumonia and lung tissue collapse.
  • Digestion – Being in bed reduces your appetite, so you become at greater risk of malnutrition and dehydration. It also reduces peristalsis or the movement of your digestive tract, so constipation becomes likely to happen. Bed rest also reduces the effect of urination while increasing the excretion of urinary calcium, putting you at greater-than-normal risk of kidney stones.
  • BrainStaying in bed for too long increases the risk of dementia, sleep disturbances, depression, apathy, and anxiety, among other issues. The problem becomes even worse when the bed rest is caused by chronic disease.
  • Metabolism and hormones – Too much bed rest reduces your lean mass relative to your body fat. The lack of movement causes your muscles to lose their insulin resistance, leading to raised blood sugar levels. These factors increase your risk of developing Type 2 diabetes.
  • Skin – Lying down for prolonged periods causes pressure and limits the blood supply to certain areas of your skin. This makes you prone to bed sores or pressure sores.

The good news is that the effects of prolonged bed rest, especially in terms of muscle strength, are largely reversible with proper exercise and nutrition. Even when you are lying down, you can perform basic exercises, when possible, to minimize the bad effects of bed rest on your body.

Bed rest isn’t always the only option. Discover other home remedies for common conditions at

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