It’s tempting to opt for the simple “treatment” of rest when you have back pain. To be fair, you may feel better if you give overstrained spine-supporting muscles a short break. Lying down or resting may also help your body heal to some extent or shift stress off certain spinal structures. But overdoing it with rest—meaning that’s pretty much your go-to “remedy” every time you have significant back pain—can do more harm than good when it comes to your long-term health and wellbeing. Here’s why.
Loss of Flexibility
If you remain inactive for too long as you recover from an injury or spine surgery, areas around your back could become less flexible and limber, making it difficult to perform everyday tasks. What you should do instead is make an effort to move as much as possible as you recover, which may involve:
- Modifying some of your regular movements
- Doing gentle stretches (approved by your doctor or physical therapist)
- Using assistive devices, such as a back-support brace or a cane, to help you stay mobile, if necessary
Reduced Muscle Tone
Too much rest will gradually weaken spinal muscles because they aren’t being sufficiently “challenged” or stimulated. If your spine-supporting muscles are weak, your spine will have to absorb more of the stress from your regular movements, which increases your risk of experiencing additional back issues in the future.
If you’re only treating your back pain with rest, scar tissue may develop around nerves or other structures in and around your spine that are in the process of healing. While some scar tissue is beneficial, too much of it could contribute to increased pain and nerve irritation. Active forms of physical therapy and various forms of exercise can keep scar tissue formation to a minimum.
Blood Clot Formation
A potentially serious problem associated with prolonged bed rest is the risk of developing blood clots, especially in the legs. Blood clots sometimes develop because of a lack of sufficient circulation. Regular movement can keep the blood properly circulating, which also facilitates the delivery of healthy nutrients to the spine. Drinking plenty of water as you recover from a spine-related injury can also keep your blood from becoming too thick from dehydration. Similarly, after having a procedure such as spinal fusion surgery, Los Angeles patients should hydrate as much as possible while they recover.
If you remain inactive for long periods because of back pain, you may find yourself dwelling on your discomfort and limitations. Thoughts like these can contribute to depression and anxiety. However, studies show that remaining as active as possible during recovery can be good for emotional health. Activity can also reduce the risk of having depression-related issues by:
- Giving you realistic goals to strive for (e.g., being able to walk or move more each day)
- Improving your mood, since exercise increases the release of endorphins, which are the body’s natural “feel-good” hormones
- Shifting your mental focus
Rest for back pain is usually most effective within the first 48 hours of initially experiencing symptoms. Beyond this point, continued rest could slow down or impede the ability to heal and recover. Ultimately, most patients with spine-related discomfort benefit from a comprehensive treatment plan that’s primarily activity-based (e.g., physical therapy exercises or recommendations for exercises you can safely do on your own). However, you should still follow any specific advice and recommendations you get from your doctor or Los Angeles spine surgeon.
If you’re experiencing severe or persistent back pain, make sure to see an experienced spine specialist for prompt diagnosis and treatment. The industry-leading physicians at The Spine Institute are pioneers in spinal health, employing cutting-edge technology and innovative methods to enable patients to live pain-free, active lives. To schedule a personal consultation with one of our spinal health experts, give us a call today at 310-828-7757.