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Male patient walking with a physical therapist and doctor in a hospital

People in the hospital spend a lot of time in bed. Often too much time: one study found that hospital patients spend over 95% of their time in bed.

Bed rest may be unavoidable for some people, based on their condition, but it's harmful for most people.

Bed Rest Risks

While rest is an important part of the recovery process, bed rest also causes problems because people are healthier when they move.

For example, during bed rest muscle mass decreases at a rate of 1%-2% per day, the risk of blood clots increases, and a person's range of motion (the ability to move joints like knees, elbows, and shoulders) is likely to get worse.

Benefits of Movement

Getting out of bed and moving can improve some of the downsides of bed rest.

Movement during a hospital stay also provides a safe space to test balance, strength, and coordination so people are better prepared to move when they get home.

What You Should Do

If you or a loved one has a hospital stay, tell the medical staff about your desire to limit bed rest.

  • Ask your health care team to challenge you to do physical activities they think are safe. At first, this might be as simple as walking to the bathroom or standing beside your bed.
  • Ask your health care team to schedule times for you to walk within the hospital, with assistance if necessary.
  • Try to increase your movement and decrease your bed rest each day.

How a Physical Therapist Can Help

Physical therapists are movement experts who optimize quality of life through prescribed exercise, hands-on care, and patient education.

Physical therapists are often involved in helping patients improve mobility, recover from injury, and manage pain and other chronic conditions before, during, or after a hospital stay.

When you're in the hospital, ask for a physical therapist to help you get moving. This could include walking, practicing balance, learning to get in and out of bed and on and off the toilet, and eventually exercise. The goal is to make sure you leave the hospital strong enough to be able to take care of yourself when you return home.

When you're ready to leave the hospital, ask for a referral to a physical therapist if you are having mobility problems, decreased balance, difficulty walking, or any other movement related problems that will keep you from being independent or active when you get home.

You can also use Find a PT to contact a physical therapist directly.

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Johns Hopkins Medicine. Combatting hospital immobility harm. Accessed July 10, 2019.

Johnson AM, Howell DM. Mobility bridges a gap in care: findings from an early mobilization quality improvement project in acute care. J Clin Nurs. 2019 July 1 [E-pub ahead of print]. doi: 10.1111/jocn.14986. Article Summary in PubMed.

Growdon ME, Shorr RI, Inouye SK. The tension between promoting mobility and preventing falls in the hospital. JAMA Intern Med. 2017;177(6):759-760. Free Article. 

Brown CJ, Redden DT, Flood KL, Allman RM. The underrecognized epidemic of low mobility during hospitalization of older adults. J Am Geriatr Soc. 2009;47(9):1660-1665. Article Summary in PubMed.

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