9 October 1999

New evidence suggests that the best way to recover from a range of medical complaints and surgical operations from bad backs to heart attacks is to get out of bed as soon as you can.

Resting in bed in such cases has few benefits and can be harmful according to a study by a University of Queensland research team.

Chris Allen, a science graduate who is completing the third year of the University's Graduate Medical Course, questioned the effectiveness of bed-rest as a treatment for many medical conditions.

With the encouragement of Professor Chris Del Mar and Associate Professor Paul Glasziou, from the University's Centre for General Practice, Mr Allen systematically probed the worlds medical research records looking for evidence. The outcome was startling.

"Far from being of any benefit, resting in bed for long periods can actually be harmful, " Mr Allen said.

"I studied reports of 5,777 patients and there's just no evidence that resting in bed helps or speeds recovery from surgical operations.

"Lying in bed doesn't help conditions such as TB, infectious hepatitis, low back pain or heart attacks either.

"The best treatment is to get up as soon as you feel you have the strength. This may be as soon as three days after cardiac surgery."

The belief that resting in bed is a useful treatment dates back to Hippocrates. The notion gained strong support in the 19th century and in many cases is still considered relevant today.

"Ideas about the value of bed-rest for some medical conditions are so entrenched that doctors have been slow to change even when faced the evidence of the ineffectiveness of the treatment," Mr Allen said.

"A 1998 study of spinal puncture procedures in England revealed 80 percent of neurological units insisted on bed-rest following the procedure, despite evidence published 17 years earlier that resting in bed had no value."

But what if you have a bad cold or flu and you're feeling weak and terrible?

According to Professor Del Mar it's necessary to distinguish between the use of bed-rest as a way of palliating symptoms like the flu, and its use as a treatment to speed recovery from surgery or medical conditions.

"Staying in bed for a day or so is sometimes the only way of getting relief from flu symptoms," Professor Del Mar said.

"The best available evidence suggests that getting up as soon as possible and resuming normal activities is the fastest route to recovery."

For further information contact Professor Chris Del Mar on 3365 5381