After undergoing surgery or a treatment that requires a hospital stay, you may feel like all you want to do is stay in bed. If you’re a caregiver, you might want to let your loved one rest as much as possible. But getting too much rest and too little physical activity can actually work against the recovery process.

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The Dangers of Immobility

Being too sedentary while recovering from surgery or a procedure can lead to further complications and health problems. Immobility syndrome can set in, causing muscles to weaken and contract, making it harder to get moving again. Older people are especially prone to the dangers of immobility: 70 percent of older adults experience functional decline after a hospital stay.

Negative effects of immobility include:

  • Loss of muscle mass, strength, and range of motion in joints
  • Increased pain
  • Trouble balancing
  • Osteoporosis
  • Bowel and urinary issues
  • Decreased cardiac health/function
  • Higher risk of deep vein thrombosis
  • Increased postural hypotension (low blood pressure when standing after sitting or lying down)
  • Memory problems
  • Increased anxiety and depression
  • Disruption of the sleep-wake cycle

Although fatigue during recovery can make it tempting to stay in bed, doing so can lead to a cycle of inactivity. As a person loses muscle mass from immobility, getting up and moving around can become even more tiring, leading to a tendency to remain sedentary. Continued inactivity leads to a slower recovery and more fatigue.

How to Prevent Immobility Syndrome

If you know that you or a loved one will be in the hospital for an extended period, plan ahead for how you’ll combat immobility during recovery.

Talk with your doctors and the nursing staff about when you or your loved one will be able to get out of bed and how you can keep moving. Even small changes can make a big difference. Here are some tips:

  • Pack clothes to wear in the hospital. Staying in pajamas or a hospital gown is one of the biggest causes of immobility. Changing into everyday clothes can make you more likely to get out of bed and move around.
  • Whether you’re in the hospital or at home, try sitting in a chair rather than lying in the bed.
  • Keep moving. Start with small activities, doing as much as the recovery plan allows. Walk from one room to another. Perform daily activities with as little assistance as possible.

Why It’s Important to Keep Moving

Moving around can improve recovery, shorten hospital stays, and help retain muscle mass. It can also help head off potential injuries. Maintaining strength and balance by staying active (even by taking short walks) helps prevent falls.

Additional benefits of staying active during and after a hospital stay include:

  • Better cardiopulmonary performance
  • Better muscle strength and joint health
  • Better urinary and gastrointestinal function
  • Less pain

Before a planned hospital stay or during an unexpected event, work closely with the care team to eliminate potential causes of immobility and to ensure that movement is part of the treatment plan.

To learn more about preventing immobility syndrome, visit the UPMC Centers for Rehab Services or call 1-888-723-4277 for an appointment.

About UPMC

Based in Pittsburgh, UPMC is a world-renowned health care provider and insurer. We operate 40 hospitals and more than 700 doctor’s offices and outpatient centers. Our expert physicians are among the leaders in their fields, and we are leaders in groundbreaking research and treatment breakthroughs. UPMC Presbyterian Shadyside ranks as “One of America’s Best Hospitals” and No. 1 in Pennsylvania in U.S. News & World Report’s listings.