Truth or myth? Work is bad for back problems

Bed rest was first advised as treatment for back problems in the 1720’s and it has been gradually questioned ever since. Whilst it should not be ruled out completely – some back problems, such as sciatica do require a temporary limiting of mobility – it should be restricted to 2 days at the most.

Fear reaction to pain makes symptoms worse

Feeling like you should lay down to stop the discomfort is a fearful emotional response to pain2. It is this fear that can actually exacerbate the symptoms by causing people to move differently in an attempt to protect themselves from the pain. For example, limping when you have an ankle injury or slouching if your back aches are abnormal movements that will only serve to increase tensions elsewhere in the body and cause further pain and discomfort down the line.

Two days rest at most

Long periods of lying down can have a number of negative side effects. Lying down does work to temporarily stop back pain, however, this is due to the muscles loosening, not because the injury has healed. If the muscles continue to loosen for more than 2 days, they will start to weaken. Then when you wish to be mobile again, your back will be in worse condition than before the bed rest began and will cause you more discomfort and pain. Furthermore, the continued immobility during bed rest also causes joints to stiffen, which can work the muscles harder when movement occurs – again causing additional pain.

Frequent movement is crucial for bodily functions

Frequent movement is necessary as the spine uses this mobility to move nutrients throughout the spine. This means that limiting movement can only serve to limit nutrients, which will slow down the healing process.

By simply resting, your body will not heal the problem, only the symptoms will be temporarily reduced, which is actually counter-productive as you will feel better whilst the root cause hasn’t been removed and will most likely result in recurrence of the problem. It has been noted that 80% of back pain will settle within 6 weeks to a point that allows for you to follow your normal daily routine. Whilst the pain may still be apparent, it will go down as your body heals itself and grows stronger.

Staying in work can help recovery

Since the best way to cure back pain is to keep mobile, staying at home watching afternoon TV on the sofa is not the best way to combat the problem. In most cases, once the acute pain subsides, going back to work is actually better for the sufferer than staying at home for lengthy periods. Many employers could, in fact, speed up the recovery following a back injury by agreeing a phased return to work or by making adjustments to avoid heavy lifting and other tasks that are strenuous for the back. It’s important to allow the employee to take regular breaks to stretch or to move around especially if they are desk-based or work at a fixed workstation.

It is also important to note that movement should not be increased to levels higher than normal during recovery – this can cause further problems by over-working the muscles and joints. Movement should be kept within normal personal daily limits as that is what the body is used to – what it is equipped for. The body will signal if movement is excessive by spasming. Spasms are caused by muscles contracting without control to try and limit the movement imposed on them. If this occurs, the response should be to simply lessen the movement, not to rest completely.