What is Bed Rest?

Sandra Koehler

Bed rest is a form of medically prescribed treatment to limit activity. It is sometimes used when there is acute pain in the spine or joints. Back pain is the most frequent area of injury that results in this type of order.

People with back pain are often told to treat it with bed rest.
People with back pain are often told to treat it with bed rest.

Complications during pregnancy, however, are the most common reasons a physician would order bed rest. Women with pre-existing conditions, such as diabetes or an autoimmune disorder are more likely to be confined to bed some time during the pregnancy. Women who are over 35 years old are considered a higher risk and therefore have an increased chance of some form of bed rest.

Bed rest is important when the body is feeling ill.
Bed rest is important when the body is feeling ill.

Bed rest is a common treatment option for women with an incompetent cervix. This is when the cervix is weak which can lead to preterm delivery or, in some instances, a miscarriage. Preterm labor, or early contractions, is another reason the doctor may give this order bed.

Bed rest is helpful when dealing with withdrawal.
Bed rest is helpful when dealing with withdrawal.

Other pregnancy problems that may require bed rest include such things as high blood pressure, fetal growth problems, or preeclampsia Preeclampsia is a condition of marked high blood pressure. In this condition, there is an excessive amount of toxins in the urine which can harm the mother and the baby if left untreated.

This form of treatment is ordered when the health and welfare of the child and the mother may be in jeopardy. The physician may prescribe this course of action for many other conditions or problems not stated here. For example, many mothers carrying multiples will also need to conform to being confined to bed.

There are four types of bed rest. Scheduled rest is when activities such as step-climbing, walking, or standing may be restricted. There also may be a certain amount of time that must be spent lying down per day. Modified rest is when activities are still limited but resting time can be spent lying down or sitting.

Strict bed rest means activities are stringently prohibited, except for bathroom breaks and short bathing time. This treatment requires that the majority of time must be spent lying down. Hospital bed rest, on the other hand, means the mother and baby are in need of constant monitoring. Therefore, this form of rest necessitates an extended stay in the hospital.

When adhering to rest orders, some problems may occur. Deconditioning or muscle atrophy, when the muscles decrease, and a general decrease in circulation may occur. But it is prescribed when the benefits outweigh the risks.

Bed rest decreases the strain on the heart and increases blood flow to the kidneys for better fluid removal. It also increases the circulation to the uterus, giving more nutrients to the baby while decreasing the pressure on the cervix. Resting can also lower stress levels which in turn decreases stress hormone levels which may trigger contraction.

Bed rest is often prescribed when pregnancy complications arise.
Bed rest is often prescribed when pregnancy complications arise.

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Discussion Comments


@Ana1234 - I know with my family the question of problems from bed rest is never the issue because it's so difficult to get anyone to stay in bed that long. My mother was told to stay in bed for a week recently to get over an infection and she decided she was well enough to get up and about by day two. You practically have to sit on her to make sure she stays put.


@browncoat - If it's very long term, bed sores can also be a problem. They occur when someone lies in the same position for too long.

However, if the bed rest is considered to be needed that long term, hopefully arrangements will be made to ensure that the patient gets proper care anyway, like an at-home nurse.

I also want to point out that often these problems aren't as bad for children who are confined to bed, because even if they are supposed to be resting, they are probably going to be squirming around and fidgeting anyway, which might tire them out but will be good for them in the long run.


If you are worried about problems that could occur during extensive bed rest, it can help to get advice from a physiotherapist (with your doctor's blessing or instructions as well). It's not particularly good for the muscles or the blood flow in general for someone to be lying down all day, particularly in one position, so at the very least you should try to change positions regularly while still lying down. But there are exercises and massage techniques that can also be used to help stave off problems with inactivity in general.

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