LONDON — Prolonged bed rest — prescribed by doctors since medicine began to speed up recovery from any number of ailments — may not always help and can even be harmful, a new study suggests.
Hippocrates, the father of medicine, who lived around 400 B.C., once said: “In every movement of the body, whenever one begins to endure pain, it will be relieved by rest.”
Since then, it has been a little-challenged assumption that bed rest is good for most illnesses, even those that don’t force patients to remain immobile, said the new study, published in this week’s issue of The Lancet, a British medical journal.
The research, by Australian scientists from the University of Queensland Medical School, examined all previous studies on the effectiveness of bed rest compared with getting up and moving around more quickly. It involved 5,777 patients with 15 different medical problems.
“Overall, there was no evidence that bed rest has any significant beneficial effect when used as a treatment or when used after surgery,” the researchers said. “It may actually delay recovery and even harm the patient.”
For example, the scientists found that taking to bed to ease nausea connected with having spinal fluid removed with a needle or a headache from undergoing spinal anesthesia made both conditions worse.
And staying in bed just two or three hours more after a heart catheterization, where blood flow is tested in the heart, increased the chances of blood leaking out of the artery and of back pain, they said.
The researchers also found that lying in bed for six or seven hours during the early stage of labor, instead of walking around, made contractions stronger and stretched out that stage.