• Dr. Brandon

Why Rest Doesn't Fix Back Pain


Are you dealing with low back pain or sciatica? Have you gone to your doctor and been told to rest it? Are you wondering if this will really cure your back pain and if so, what kind of rest is best for back pain? Years ago, when people went to their doctor for back pain, just about everybody was told to rest it. Unfortunately, this is advice that many today still get. Did you know that prolonged bed rest or lounging in a recliner for more than about 48 hours is one of the worst things you can do for your back? When we rest for more than about 48 hours after having an acute back injury, whether that is a bulging disk, a low back sprain, or muscle spasms, the joints of the spine(along with most of our other joints) actually stiffen and often feel achy due to lack of use. In addition, when we are lying on our back, our discs actually swell further which can cause more pain when you get up and walk around(making you want to lie down again). This is especially true if you’ve been resting your back for 6 weeks or longer( usually the time that most people are told to rest). I get it-resting and lying down seems to help but...there is a ton of evidence that prolonged resting is one of the worst things you can do to recover from your sciatica or chronic low back pain. It leads to

  • Higher levels of pain and stiffness

  • Reduced flexibility and muscle strength

  • A slower(and often worse) recovery

  • More time away from work

By performing gentle exercises and staying active, your pain will recover faster than just resting(and will often cost far less in time, money, and suffering) Get your Free Guide, 5 Things You Can do Today to Ease Sciatica and Low Back Pain


What kind of rest is “best” for low back pain?

Back pain often recovers best when we limit our total rest to no more than 48 hours. Then it is time to start to ease back into activity as long as you have no sign of a serious cause for your back pain(such as loss of bladder or bowel control, fever, loss of coordination or control of your legs, or unintended weight loss(having any of these is a reason to not wait but go straight to your Physician-without delay). If you’re not dealing with any of those serious issues, often the best place to start is with getting up and walking around the house or outside-you do not have to go for a half hour power walk on the treadmill. Often shorter 5 minute walks throughout the day start to ease pressure on your back, re-engage your core, and loosen stiff joints and is often a short enough duration to not provoke your sciatica. (Bonus Material-What Not do Do When Dealing with Low Back Pain-Free Download) Then, focusing on what “turns off” your back pain(i.e. What 1 stretch really eases it best(and it usually should not be bending forward and touching your toes or stretching your hamstrings(they are often the victim of back pain and not the cause)). Once you’re able to get up and move around mostly pain free-then it is time to fix the foundation or what caused you to be injured in the first place and its often not a weak core but rather stiff hips and weak glutes that weren’t handling the load properly in the first place. Lastly-it is time to scale back up to your activities from before your back pain-whether that was running, lifting, crossfit, or yoga and training your muscles to be able to handle the load(sometimes when your pain returns after starting those activities-it is showing that your foundation is not up to the demands). Need help figuring out EXACTLY what to do next (at no cost)?

What do I do when Every Step is Agony?

I know this sounds difficult-but don’t panic. This is very common especially in the early phases of back pain and we’ve seen it here at the clinic more often than we’d like to count… this does get better. Many find that a position change in bed to laying on their stomach with forehead propped on your hands(so not picking the upper part of your body up) or if that is still to painful-being on your stomach with a pillow under your hips and doing 10 minutes of yoga breathing(so breathing in through your nose and pulling the air towards your belly for 4-6 seconds(you should feel pressure in your belly, not your chest), holding for 1 second, then letting it slowly leak out(no need to blow out-it will go out on its own). Then retry getting up(if you had a pillow under your belly-try removing it half-way through). You may need to repeat this cycle throughout your day. If you are pregnant or can’t be on your stomach this option may not work for you(back pain during pregnancy often requires a completely different treatment- learn how you can get started without cost or obligation to you).

Best Sleep Position for Low Back Pain

Often sleeping is the hardest thing to do when dealing with back pain(and it is the thing that our body’s need the most). Often I’ve found that sleeping on your side with a pillow between your legs works best for my patients. Now, if your sciatica goes down one leg-that should be the top leg(as the pressure on that hip may be too much to bear). Here’s the key-if you place a body pillow behind your back and have it positioned so you don’t twist in the night and hug a pillow in front of you, you are often able to rest easier without those middle of the night twinges. Now if you have to roll over-squeeze the pillow between your knees and the pillow you are hugging and roll as one unit(like a log rolling). This supports your spine and often reduces the chance of a twinge or flare in the middle of the night.


Often we find that when we make some of the changes, like improving our posture, getting back support or mattresses, or having a better office set-up that we can reduce the number or severity of sciatica pain or low back pain but they don’t completely go away. Why? Often because some of the underlying causes remain untreated. Often our nervous system becomes so sensitive that these fixes only partly calm down our nerves, ease our stiff backs or loosen tight muscles. Sometimes we try stretches or exercises that only aggravate our spine, muscles, or pinch nerves that then send sciatica pain down the leg or make our muscles spasm. Often there are other natural solutions to fix low back pain. That’s why we offer free consultations to get to the root cause of your sciatica, low back pain, or just to make sure your back isn’t the cause of hip, knee, or even foot pain.


During one of our free consultations, the Total Body Diagnostic, we offer expert advice about the worry and frustration of life-changing aches and pains – for FREE, in under 30 minutes.

If this article describes your story and you are looking for some help with sciatica pain or low back pain, we offer FREE consultations, which give you the opportunity to come in and meet us and see for yourself how we can help you.

Here are just a few of the things you will learn in one of our free consultation:

  • What is the underlying cause of your pain? (hopefully nothing too serious!)

  • Roughly, how long will it take to fix the problem?

  • What to do to help – which doesn’t include painkillers, resting or surgery etc.

  • What other, natural, drug free methods are there to speed up recovery alongside treatment?

Our consultations are great for anyone that may be “unsure” if physio is right for them, and they give you the opportunity to ask questions and see for yourself if we can help you.

If you’d like one of our limited free consultation sessions, please click here to request your Total Body Diagnostic or CALL us on 850-765-2779 to make a no-obligation enquiry.

About the author

Brandon Alkire, DPT, CSCS, FMS, Cert. DN

Doctor of Physical Therapy and Strength Coach

Dr. Brandon is the owner and a Physio at Body Mechanix Physiotherapy and Fitness. Four of his favorite people call him daddy while he's been married to his other favorite person for over 18 years. He enjoys teaching martial arts and is a Mestrando in Capoeira while in the mornings, he can be found working out with the guys in F3 around town.

He's the author of 4 pain relief guides for sciatica, low back, shoulder, and knees and the lead contributor to the Active Tallahassee Blog.



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