Reducing Joint and Back Pain for a Bedridden Loved One


Reducing Joint and Back Pain for a Bedridden Loved One


Being bedridden due to an illness or injury can take an emotional toll, making your loved one feel frustrated, bored, or depressed. But it also can be physically uncomfortable.

The body is meant to move. Staying in bed for an extended period can cause stiffness and aches. Addressing these issues is important to keep your loved one’s pain at bay and ensure joints and muscles stay healthy.

If your loved one is able to get out of bed for a short period of time, they can stretch and move their muscles to help control or alleviate muscle and joint pain. Hospital beds with adjustable heights may help them get up more easily.

There also are in-bed exercises that can keep the body in shape even while in disuse. Encourage slow movement and tell them to stop if there is any discomfort.

If you’re providing elder care at home, keep your bedridden loved one active with these stretches and exercises. Please note: When beginning an exercise program, consult their doctor to ensure the exercises are safe for them.

Neck pain

Neck pain can be distracting as it can limit range of motion. Neck stiffness after sleeping can be relieved by icing the neck on and off over about 20 minutes. Heating pads also can relax tight neck muscles.

Gentle stretches may improve neck soreness. Below are some neck stretches you can have your loved one try:

  • Tip the ear toward the shoulder. Keep the head tilted to the side and breathe deeply for about 15 to 30 seconds. For a deeper stretch, use a hand to put slight pressure on the side of the head that is facing up. Be sure to stretch both sides.
  • Stretch the back of the neck by dipping the chin toward the chest and holding that position several seconds. Breathe deeply and return to neutral.
  • Extend the front of the neck by leaning the head back to extend toward your upper back. Breathe and hold.
  • Turn the head gently side to side.
  • Rotate the shoulders in circles. Try about making five to 10 circles in each direction. Then lift the shoulders up to the ears and drop to a neutral position several times.

Back pain

Limited or no movement and improper alignment due to being bedridden contribute to back pain. Regularly changing position and aligning the spine when sleeping using pillows and a supportive mattress can help lessen back pain.

Here are three exercises that can help strengthen a person’s back. All are done lying on their back with their knees bent and feet flat on the surface:

  • Squeeze a ball between the knees to strengthen the hips and lower back.
  • Pull the stomach in and hold it in for about 10 seconds then release. Repeat this several times.
  • Try a bridge pose. On their back with knees bent, have them pull their stomach in, lift their hips off the surface–keeping their upper back and shoulders down--and hold. Hold the hips up about 10 seconds and repeat several times.

Hip and knee pain

  • Have them lie on their back with knees bent and feet flat on the bed. Have them gently move both knees to one side and hold. Come back to center then move the knees to the other side and hold. Repeat about five times on each side.
  • Start them on their back with legs straight. Keeping one leg straight, bend the other knee toward the chest. Grab the front of the shin and hold to feel the stretch. Repeat with the other leg.
  • To stretch the hamstring, have them lie on their back, lift one leg up and gently pull it toward the chest using their hands or a towel wrapped over the foot. Repeat on the other side. You may need to assist with this stretch if they can’t reach up toward the leg. Have them hold each stretch for about 20 seconds.

Elbow pain

  • Move the arm over the head and back down.
  • Lying on their back with hands at their side, palms facing up. Bend and straighten each arm.

Hand and wrist pain

  • Flex and extend the fingers out with an open palm.
  • Briefly touch and squeeze each fingertip to the thumb on each hand. Repeat.
  • Make a tight fist and release.
  • Squeeze and release a stress ball.

Ankle pain

  • Rotate the ankle in each direction about five times.
  • Point and flex each foot several times.

Have your loved one start with just a few exercises and repetitions to work up their strength before adding more, and help with the exercises if needed. If any pain is experienced while exercising, have them stop and consult their doctor.

About the Contributor

Aaron Goldsmith is the owner of Transfer Master. Transfer Master has built electric adjustable hospital beds for the home and medical facility since 1993. He started with a simple goal that hospital beds should allow wheelchair users to transfer independently in and out of bed. 25 years later, their customers are still at the center of everything they do.

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