How Many Days of Bed Rest for Acute Low Back Pain?

Richard A. Deyo, Andrew K. Diehl, Marc Rosenthal

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

344 Scopus citations


Bed rest is usually recommended for acute low back pain. Although the optimal duration of bed rest is uncertain, a given prescription may directly affect the number of days lost from work or other activities. In a randomized trial, we compared the consequences of recommending two days of bed rest (Group I) with those of recommending seven days (Group II). The subjects were 203 walk-in patients with mechanical low back pain; 78 percent had acute pain (≤30 days), and none had marked neurologic deficits. Follow-up data were obtained at three weeks (93 percent) and three months (88 percent). Although compliance with the recommendation of bed rest was variable, patients randomly assigned to Group I missed 45 percent fewer days of work than those assigned to Group II (3.1 vs. 5.6 days, P = 0.01), and no differences were observed in other functional, physiologic, or perceived outcomes. For many patients without neuromotor deficits, clinicians may be able to recommend two days of bed rest rather than longer periods, without any perceptible difference in clinical outcome. If widely applied, this policy might substantially reduce absenteeism from work and the resulting indirect costs of low back pain for both patients and employers. (N Engl J Med 1986; 315:1064–70.), In many large industrial settings, low back pain is second only to upper respiratory infection as a cause of absence from work.1 It is estimated that 1400 days of work per 1000 workers are lost annually in the United States because of back pain, and perhaps more in Great Britain.2 Much of this lost productivity may be related to bed rest, the most commonly recommended treatment for low back pain, as well as to the illness itself. Most observers agree that the prognosis of acute low back pain is good, regardless of the specific treatments applied.2,3 There is also agreement.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)1064-1070
Number of pages7
JournalNew England Journal of Medicine
Issue number17
StatePublished - Oct 23 1986
Externally publishedYes

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Medicine(all)


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