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Cochrane Database Syst Rev. 2000;(2):CD001254.

Bed rest for acute low back pain and sciatica.

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  • 1Health Services Research Unit, National Institute of Public Health, P.O. Box 4404 Torshov, N-0403 Oslo, Norway.

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Low back pain is a common reason for consulting a general practitioner, and advice on daily activities constitutes an important part in the primary care management of low back pain.


To assess the effects of bed rest for patients with acute low back pain or sciatica.


We searched the Cochrane Musculoskeletal Group trial register, Cochrane Controlled Trials Register, MEDLINE, Embase, Sport, Scisearch, and reference lists of relevant articles. We also contacted authors of relevant articles. Date of the most recent searches: December 1998.


We included all randomised studies or quasi randomised studies where at least one comparison group of adult patients with acute low back pain with or without radiation of pain below the knee was advised to rest in bed for at least two days and one group was not, or where comparison groups were advised to stay in bed for different lengths of time. The main outcomes of interest were pain, functional status, recovery and return to work.


Two reviewers independently selected trials for inclusion, assessed the validity of included trials and extracted data. Investigators were contacted to obtain missing information.


Nine trials with a total of 1435 patients were included. Five trials met all four validity criteria and were assessed to have low risk of bias, while four trials were assessed to have moderate to high risk of bias. Four trials compared bed rest with advice to stay active, and overall the results were heterogeneous. Overall results from two high quality studies indicate no difference in pain intensity at three weeks follow-up [Standardized Mean Difference 0.0 (95%CI: -0.3, 0.2)], and a small difference in functional status in favour of staying active [Weighted Mean Difference 3.2 (on a 0-100 scale) (95%CI 0.6, 5.8)]. Two high quality trials reported no differences in pain intensity between two to three days of bed rest and seven days of bed rest. Another two high-quality trials found no differences between bed rest and exercises in pain intensity or functional status.


Bed rest compared to acvice to stay active will at best have small effects, and at worst might have small harmful effects on acute LBP. Differences in effects of advice to stay in bed compared with advice to stay active are small for patients with low back pain with or without sciatica. There is not an important difference in the effects of bed rest compared with exercises in the treatment of acute low back pain, or seven days compared with two to three days of bed rest in patients with low back pain of different duration with and without radiating pain.

[PubMed - indexed for MEDLINE]
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