If you’re like most people, all you want to do is sit or lie down after the onset of lower back pain. In some cases, it may be a good idea to rest for a day or two—but read on to learn more about the dangers of prolonged rest for people with lower back pain.
See Spinal Anatomy and Back Pain
Lower back muscles and prolonged rest
A number of large muscles work together around your lumbar spine (lower back) to provide support and assist with various types of movements. These include your extensor, flexor, and oblique muscles—and if you injure one of these lower back muscles a few days of rest can promote healing.
However, prolonged rest past 48 hours can cause your lower back muscles to atrophy (at a rate of 1 to 1.5 percent per day). So if you rest for too long, your weakening muscles may not be able to adequately support your spine—which can cause lower back pain and lead to other kinds of lower back injuries.
Weight gain and lower back pain
As you likely know, prolonged periods of inactivity can lead to weight gain. This is no trivial matter, as people who are overweight are more likely to experience back pain, joint strain, and muscle strain.
In part, your excessive weight can lead to added lower-back-related problems by pulling your pelvis forward, which places stress on your lower back. In addition, people who are overweight are more likely to suffer a herniated disc injury, which can cause lower back pain and sciatica symptoms.
Another danger posed by weight gain is an increased risk for complications and infections following surgery. So if you are awaiting surgery for a lower back problem, it is best to remain active.
Additional dangers of prolonged rest
In addition to dangers directly related to your lower back, prolonged rest may lead to any of the following complications:
- Cardiopulmonary deconditioning (at a rate of up to a 15 percent loss in 10 days)
- Decrease in bone density
- Increased risk of blood clots
Of course, the above list is not exhaustive—but it provides more than enough reasons to avoid prolonged rest after the onset of your lower back pain.
It’s important to keep moving after the onset of your lower back pain. So if your pain is severe, talk with your doctor about creative solutions to help you stay active—such as water therapy.