Dr. Bell's Blog

Back Pain: Should I Rest or Be Active?


It can be confusing what to do when back pain strikes.  Outside of a visit to the chiropractor to find out what is causing the pain, there are many different avenues that you can take to also aid in the recovery. 

  • Some say to rest until the pain subsides.
  • Some say to keep moving even if it hurts.

What is the real answer?  Well, it depends.  Lets take a look at why...

Types of Back Pain:

Acute Pain

This is the pain that happens at the initial onset of an injury or incident.  The acute/sub-acute phase can generally last up to a couple of weeks, and can present with some substantial pain. During this phase your body will produce inflammation and chemicals to help immobilize the area, which helps facilitate healing.  During this phase, some rest is likely warranted, as too much time on your feet will not allow for proper healing.  However, this does not mean bed rest (like doctors would advise patient's to do many years ago) is a good idea.  A small amount of easy movement can help increase blood flow, improve mobility, and help the healing process.  I advise patients just to go for easy walks that are short in duration.

Chronic Pain

During this phase of an injury and subsequent recovery, the majority of the inflammation has now subsided.  Scar tissue is developing, which is limiting your movement especially in the furthest reaches of range of motion.  During this phase consistent movement, stretching, and activity is extremely important.  You do not want to permanently lose your ability to move normally during your activities of daily living.  This is the time you need to remodel the tissues and muscles surrounding your spine back to their normal strength and movement so they can function normally.  Some discomfort with activity should be expected during this phase, which is normal as long as it does not produce acute pain. 

Finally, when it comes to recovering from any injury, I always advise listening to your body.  Everyone has different levels of pain tolerance based on physiology and previous levels of pain experienced. Never ignore acute pain, but working through some minor discomfort can many times allow you to recover faster, and get back to living the life you deserve. 

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