Remember the last time you had the flu? Do you think you will get better faster by staying in bed for a day or two or going to work? A huge review of the medical literature published in the British medical journal, Lancet, shows that there is no evidence that bed rest helps you to heal faster from any medical condition.
During World War II, American soldiers were drafted and sent to do their basic training at the Great Lakes Naval Training Center before they were sent to fight in Europe. A major epidemic of flu occurred affecting almost all the troops. Half of the soldiers were kept in bed, while the other half stayed in the vigorous exercise of basic training. Both groups required the same amount of time to recover, although those forced to undergo the rigorous demands of preparing for war complained more.
In this article, researchers at the University of Queensland in Australia searched the medical literature from 1966 to the present and found only 39 studies testing whether bed rest benefitted any medical condition. Twenty-four studies showed that bed rest was of little or no benefit in preventing side effects of medical procedures such as spinal anaesthesia, spinal fluid withdrawal, and multiple x ray procedures. Fifteen studies showed no benefit in treating medical conditions such as low back pain, spontaneous labor, high blood pressure during pregnancy, uncomplicated heart attacks, rheumatoid arthritis or infectious hepatitis. So the next time you feel sick, stay in bed if you like, but it probably won't help you heal faster.
Allen C et al. Bed rest: a potential harmful treatment needing more careful evaluation. Lancet October 9, 1999;354:1129-1233.
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