Bed Exercises for Bed-Bound Patients

Bed exercises for bed-bound patients

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Remaining in bed can cause loss of function in the muscles, pain, bed sores, and a whole host of other complications. However, by staying as active as possible and engaging in bed exercises, you may be able to decrease the risk of such conditions.

Health Risks for Bed-Bound Patients

Health risks for bed-bound patients

Humans are not designed for a sedentary lifestyle: remaining active is an important part of staying healthy. However, there are some people whose health conditions or disabilities mean that they cannot leave the bed. It’s important to understand some of the associated risks.

Increased Risk of Bed Sores

While you may associate lying in bed as a comfortable activity, when you have to remain in one position for a long time, this puts pressure on the area that is in contact with the bed. The result is a skin injury known as a pressure sore. What’s worrying is that pressure sores can develop extremely quickly; in as little as two hours in some patients.

This is on the extreme end of the scale and those who are more at risk are patients that are incontinent and those who are not correctly nourished.

Pressure sores can be incredibly serious. In some cases, the wounds remain open which can lead to infection, and this is largely caused by protrusions in bony areas.

Muscle Loss & Poor Circulation

When a patient remains in bed, their muscles are not getting as much use and this can lead to muscle weakness loss. As a result of this, the patient may experience stiffness around the joints, and in the worst cases, the muscles can become permanently shortened.

Bed rest for prolonged periods can also affect circulation. Again, this is to do with fewer movements which would ordinarily encourage blood flow. While poor circulation is a problem within itself, this can also lead to blood clots. If these clots travel to the lungs then the patient’s life may be at risk should a pulmonary embolism form.

Loss of Bone Density

Much like the muscles, the bones will become weak if they are not regularly used. This means that bed-bound patients are prone to loss of bone density.

One of the major issues with this is that the bones are more likely to fracture. For example, if the patient is being moved and suffers a fall, the injury could be a lot worse that it ordinarily would.

Loss of Appetite

When a patient is in bed all the time, they are not exerting as much energy so the body doesn’t require as much sustenance. This can cause a loss of appetite.

For some patients, there may be a concern about using the toilet, so they go off their food to avoid having to go in the first place. In other cases, patients may not be mentally stimulated enough to want to eat and therefore, lose interest in it.

It is vital to intervene as early as possible for a patient who is suffering a loss of appetite as this will, combined with other interventions, improve their quality of life.

Boredom & Depression

If you are bed-bound, you may experience feelings of helplessness, and your contact with other people will likely be limited. These things, among others, can lead to feelings of boredom and depression.

It’s vital to pay close attention to the mental health of bed-bound patients as studies have shown that long periods of bed rest can have a negative psychological effect not only on the patient, but also their family members and caregivers.

Respiratory Problems

When remaining in bed, patients tend to take shorter or smaller breaths which means that they aren’t using their lungs to full capacity. As a direct result of this, they are more susceptible to respiratory complications. When the respiratory system isn’t functioning as normal, there is a higher risk of infection.


As with the respiratory system, the digestive system may slow down when a person is bed-bound. This means that stools will take longer to pass through, and the patient may experience constipation. Drinking a lot of water and eating a high fiber diet can aid the process. However, certain medications may also have digestive side effects, which make it difficult to pass stools.

What are the Benefits of Bed Exercises?

What are the benefits of bed exercises?

Many of the problems that come from being bed-bound are related to a lack of movement. However, by taking part in regular bed exercises, the patient’s health may be vastly improved.

Helps with Muscle Strength & Circulation

Keeping the body moving can boost circulation and help patients to retain muscle strength. Without bed exercise, the patient may find themselves in a vicious circle. They remain in bed to recover, but as they do, they find themselves too weak to get up and walk, which is an important part of their rehabilitation. Bed exercises will ensure that this doesn’t happen.

While all patients can benefit from bed exercises to improve muscle strength and circulation, it is especially important for older adults. Studies have shown that seniors are at a much greater risk of muscle deterioration as a result of prolonged bed rest.

Can Lessen the Risk of Pressure Injuries

It is quite worrying to learn that pressure sores are much more than just a skin injury. In some cases, they can be life-threatening if infection leads to things like blood poisoning. So it is vital to avoid them as much as possible.

Bed exercises keep the patient moving so that one part of the body doesn’t remain in constant contact with the bed. This movement relieves pressure off these parts of the body and boosts circulation. Poor circulation is one of the contributing factors to the development of bed sores.

Helps with Mental Wellness

As we have discussed, being bed-bound can lead to extreme boredom, which in turn, can cause depression. Having things to keep the mind stimulated is essential, and daily exercises can form part of this stimulation.

How to Stay Safe When Performing Bed Exercises?

How to stay safe when performing bed exercises?

There generally aren’t any risks associated with doing bed exercises. However, you may notice that you experience pain or discomfort. If this happens, you should stop performing the exercises and speak to your doctor or physical therapist. 

In any case, it is good practice to consult a healthcare professional before beginning any exercise program. They will be able to offer the most tailored advice.

Upper Extremity Bed Exercises

There are several upper body exercises that you can do whilst bed-bound. A physical therapist will be able to help tailor a program that works best for you. But here are just some of the exercises you might be advised to do.

1. Push-Ups

  • Bend the arms and bring the backs of your hands to the shoulders
  • Now extend the arms, with the palms facing up, towards the ceiling
  • Bring the arms back down to the shoulders
  • Repeat up to ten times

2. Wrist Extension & Flexion

  • Place your arm along the side of your body with the palm facing in toward your body
  • Move the wrist in a back-and-forth motion slowly but as far as feels comfortable
  • You may use weights when doing this exercise
  • Repeat as many times as your physical therapist advises you

3. Elbow Extension & Flexion

  • Begin with the arm down alongside your body
  • Bend the elbow and move the arm so that your hand comes up towards your shoulder
  • Keep the elbow tucked into your body at all times

4. Shoulder Flexion

  • Lie flat on your back with the arm along the side of your body
  • Point the hand towards the floor
  • Lift the arm and bring it back so that the hand is now pointing towards the wall behind you
  • Repeat as many times as necessary

Lower Extremity Bed Exercises

Lower extremity bed exercises keep the circulation moving through the legs, which is an area particularly at risk of blood clots. They’ll also ensure your muscles remain strong and healthy. As with the upper extremity exercises, there are several to choose from and your physical therapist will help you to decide which are best for your needs.

1. Ankle Flexion

  • Start by lying flat on your back with the toes pointed towards the end of the bed
  • Now flex the ankles so that the toes point up towards the ceiling
  • Repeat this ten times

2. Hip Abduction & Adduction

  • Begin with the legs closed together while lying on your back
  • Take one leg and extend it directly out to the side
  • Bring it back in and repeat on the other side
  • Perform the exercise as many times as necessary

3. Knee Flexions

  • Lying on your back with the legs flat, bring one knee up so that it is fully bent
  • As you move the knee, go slowly and carefully
  • Bring the knee back to the original position and repeat on the other side

4. Bottom Clench

  • Lie flat on the back
  • Clench the muscles in your bottom without tensing the thighs or the stomach muscles
  • Hold the clench for a few seconds and then release

5. Straight Leg Raise

  • Lie on the back with one leg straight and the other bent so that your foot rests on the bed
  • Hold your stomach muscles tight while you lift your straight leg around six inches off of the bed
  • Bring the leg back down and repeat on the other side

6. Inner Range Quads

  • Take a rolled-up towel or blanket and place this under the knees
  • Tense the thigh muscles so that your leg raises off the bed
  • Hold the position for five seconds
  • Bring the leg back down and repeat on the second side

7. Bridging

  • Lie on your back with both knees bent and the feet on the mattress
  • Raise your bottom off the bed using the strength of your lower body muscles
  • Make sure that your pelvis remains level
  • Hold the position for five seconds
  • Lower your bottom back down to the bed
  • Repeat as many times as necessary

8. Clam Shells

  • Lie on your side with the knees bent
  • Open the top leg and bring it back down, repeating the motion as many times as you need
  • When you’re done, turn over onto your other side and repeat with the other leg on top
  • Note that you should only lift the leg as high as feels comfortable for you

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