Background: Low-back pain (LBP) is a common reason for consulting a general practitioner, and advice on daily activities is an important part of the primary care management of low-back pain.
Objectives: To assess the effects of advice to rest in bed for patients with acute LBP or sciatica.
Search strategy: We searched the Cochrane Back Group Specialized Registry, CENTRAL, MEDLINE, EMBASE, Sport, and SCISEARCH to March 2003, reference lists of relevant articles, and contacted authors of relevant articles.
Selection criteria: Randomised or controlled clinical trials with quasi-randomisation (alternate allocation, case record numbers, dates of birth, etc.), in any language, where the effectiveness of advice to rest in bed was evaluated. The main outcomes of interest were pain, functional status, recovery and return to work.
Data collection and analysis: Two reviewers independently selected trials for inclusion, assessed the internal validity of included trials and extracted data. Investigators were contacted to obtain missing information.
Main results: Eleven trials (1963 patients) were included in this updated version. There is high quality evidence that people with acute LBP who are advised to rest in bed have a little more pain [Standardised Mean Difference (SMD) 0.22 (95% Confidence Interval (CI): 0.02, 0.41)] and a little less functional recovery [SMD 0.29 (95% CI: 0.05, 0.45)] than those advised to stay active. For patients with sciatica, there is moderate quality evidence of little or no difference in pain [SMD -0.03 (95% CI: -0.24, 0.18)] or functional status [SMD 0.19 (95% CI: -0.02, 0.41)] between bed rest and staying active. For patients with acute LBP, there is moderate quality evidence of little or no difference in pain intensity or functional status between bed rest and exercises. For patients with sciatica, there is moderate quality evidence of little or no difference in pain intensity between bed rest and physiotherapy, but small improvements in functional status [Weighted Mean Difference 6.9 (on a 0-100 scale) (95% CI: 1.09, 12.74)] with physiotherapy. There is moderate quality evidence of little or no difference in pain intensity or functional status between two to three days and seven days of bed rest.
Reviewers' conclusions: For people with acute LBP, advice to rest in bed is less effective than advice to stay active. For patients with sciatica, there is little or no difference between advice to rest in bed and advice to stay active. There is little or no difference in the effect of bed rest compared to exercises or physiotherapy, or seven days of bed rest compared with two to three.