woman in a hospital bed

When bed rest can do more harm than good

Our bodies were made to move, and doctors are quickly discovering the harmful effects that bed rest can have on our recovery and resilience.

Although bed rest is often needed for healing an injury or battling a disease, we should only allow ourselves to remain immobile for as short as possible. I had always thought of bed rest as a process that shouldn’t be rushed in order to allow ourselves to fully restore, but it can end up doing the exact opposite. I was shocked to learn that after only 3-5 weeks of bed rest, almost half the normal strength of a muscle is lost. Our bodies were made to move, and doctors are quickly discovering the harmful effects that bedrest can have on our bodies.

Studies About Bedrest

One study that was completed at Swansea University in the School of Health Science aimed to explore the adverse effects of prolonged bedrest on the musculoskeletal and immune systems, skin, and self-perception.

  • Muscles: When immobilized, muscles will atrophy at alarming rates. Studies found that it takes about four weeks to recover from atrophy caused by immobility, which is an even slower process than recovery from muscle trauma.
  • Connective tissue: Altered structure of collagen fibers can begin as soon as four days into immobility
  • Bone: When no force is put on the body for any length of time, a serious reduction in the mineral content of bone tissue is seen, leading to reduced bone density and strength
  • Immune system: Decreased production of interleukins and plasma antibodies has been observed after bedrest which both contribute to lower levels of immunity
  • Self Perception: with a decrease in body function and altered appearance, bedrest can lead to patients re-evaluating their physical self

Complete rest can also cause decreased endurance levels through reduced muscle strength, metabolic activity, and circulation. This can cause a vicious cycle of even greater inactivity by causing a sense of fatigue. Yes, sometimes bed rest is necessary but sometimes it can also cause a great deal of harm to a person’s body. Only you can know when your body feels ready to start moving. If the doctor prescribed three weeks of bed rest but you feel ready in two, give it a shot.


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