Lower back pain is one of the most common types of pain in the US, affecting about 25% of the population.¹ It can result from diseases and injuries. Still, in most cases, it results from injury to the tendons and muscles in your back. Most people experience this form of pain from heavy lifting and hard work.
Despite being a source of relief, extended bed rest can also aggravate lower back pain. In extreme cases, too much rest may make it impossible to sleep or work.
In this article, we will answer the question, “how many days should you rest to recover from lower back pain?”
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Lower back pain is more common in individuals over the age of 40. For individuals aged 60 and above, lower back pain can become disabling, reducing their quality of life.²
As you age, the disks located on your lower back become thinner, making them less effective in supporting the spine. When the spine isn't well-supported, you are more prone to injuries and poor posture, aggravating lower back pain.
In addition, lower back pain can also be linked to congenital disorders, which means you may acquire them at birth but present later in life.³
Below are more causes of lower back pain:
Sprains and strains
Strains and sprains in the lower back are among the top causes of back pain. These conditions strain and injure muscles, ligaments, and tendons and mainly occur when lifting heavy objects without any support. Some individuals may also sustain strains on their back when twisting, sneezing, bending, or coughing.
During impact accidents, bones in your spine can fracture, resulting in lower back pain. Also, some medical conditions, such as osteoporosis and spondylitis, increase the risk of fractures in the spine.
Disks in your vertebrae help keep your spine in position. When disks get out of position, they can press on nerves and cause lower back pain. With age, some disks degenerate, and others, such as the herniated disks, worsen pain in your back.
One such condition is spinal stenosis which occurs when the spinal column becomes too narrow for the spinal cord. In such cases, you may experience severe pain in your lower back.
Scoliosis, when the spine forms a curvature instead of being straight, is another structural problem that causes stiffness, pain, and difficulty in moving.
Bone weakening conditions
Osteoporosis is a form of bone disease that can cause lower back pain and is most common in women. The thinning of bone tissue in the spine increases the risk of fractures and broken bones, and a minor injury in the spine can result in very painful conditions.
This condition causes pain in different body parts, including the lower back. It's characterized by widespread soft tissue pain, sleep disturbance, fatigue, and tenderness in different body parts.
Facet joint dysfunction
Each vertebrae disk has two facet joints on the backside. These joints can become dysfunctional with age, leading to lower back pain. Facet joint syndrome is a degenerative disease similar to arthritis that occurs due to inflammation of the cartilage in these joints.
Typical wear and tear of different structures in the spine make it difficult for ligaments and joints to keep the spine in its proper position. Spondylolisthesis occurs when a vertebra slides on top of another, pressing nerves in the spine and causing lower back pain.
There are two types of lower back pain: acute and chronic back pain. Acute lower back pain lasts a few days to a few weeks, and it tends to resolve itself within a few days with proper self-care. In some cases, it may take up to a few months for the symptoms to disappear completely. Chronic lower back pain lasts for up to 12 weeks or longer.
However, there is no standard time frame for lower back pain recovery since the causes of back pain are so diverse. Recovery time may vary depending on the following factors:
The nature of the injury
Cause of the pain
The extent of the injury
Type of treatment used for the injury
The activities a patient is involved in
Most people are inclined to rest when they experience lower back pain. Medical practitioners commonly prescribed bed rest to relieve lower back pain in the past. Recent studies, however, show that staying in bed for more than 48 hours doesn't help you heal faster but rather delays recovery.⁴
Extended bed rest causes your muscles to lose their strength and flexibility, leading to more pain and the potential to reinjure the tissue.⁵ Prolonged bed rest is only an option for people with back pain due to severe spine injuries.
To get the most benefit from your rest, limit how long you lay down to a few hours at a time and for no more than a day or two. You can rest on a sofa or bed in a comfortable position.
A good way to reduce strain is placing a pillow between your knees and beneath your head when lying on your side, under your hips when lying on your stomach, and under your knees when lying on your back. These positions help reduce the strain that sitting and standing put on your back.
Staying active during your discomfort is a better way of managing lower back pain, and it’s recommended to engage in active rest. Active rest refers to moving as much as can be tolerated while avoiding activities that make your back pain worse, such as heavy lifting or jogging. Alongside appropriate stretches and exercise, active rest can help you quickly recover from lower back pain.⁶
Here are some tips that can help you recover from lower back pain faster.
Consider short periods of bed rest
You should consider bed rest for a few hours when your lower back pain becomes severe. Place a pillow between your knees and sleep on your side when in bed.
The sponge disks and soft tissues in the spine rely on a steady supply of blood flow to get nutrients and oxygen to help your spine heal faster. When you rest in bed for an extended period, your heart rate decreases and your blood flows more slowly. The trick is to remain active to ensure enough blood flow to your spine to deliver the nutrients needed for healing.
Pain killers can help relieve lower back pain. Also, if the pain is due to an underlying medical condition, your doctor can prescribe the appropriate drugs to treat the root cause. Follow your doctor's instructions for optimal results when taking these medications.
Exercise if possible
If you suffer from lower back pain, switching between rest periods and activity helps your body respond better and recover faster. Moderate exercise is the best way to increase blood flow to your spine and ensure you get sufficient nutrients for faster healing.
Yes, extended bed rest can worsen your lower back pain significantly. Here's what happens to your back when you rest for extended periods:
Flexor and extensor muscles in your spine are responsible for backward and forward bending movements. When you lie in bed for prolonged periods, these muscles become weak and reduce in size.
Increased risk of injury
During prolonged rest periods, changes in your spine make your back weaker and more prone to lower back pain. The risk of injury due to spinal instability also increases.
Typically, taking breaks while moving and exercising eases your lower back pain. However, if your condition doesn't improve, it's time to see your doctor. It is also advisable to see a doctor if your pain lasts for more than 24 to 48 hours. The following are signs you need to see your doctor:
Fever associated with back pain
Pain doesn't get better after taking medication at home
The pain and muscle spasms in your spine are interfering with your everyday activities
You are experiencing numbness, tingling pain, and weakness in your legs and buttocks
You are experiencing bladder and bowel problems
Pain, limited movement, and stiffness can significantly impact your quality of life. You can manage low back pain by staying active and maintaining a healthy weight.
In addition, while short bed rest can help manage low back pain, extended bed rest periods only aggravate the situation. Finally, do not wait until your back pain worsens before talking to a physician. Managing your low back pain with the help of your physician speeds up recovery time, ensuring you regain your mobility sooner.
Acute low back pain | Centers for Disease Control and Prevention
Spinal stenosis | MedlinePlus
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