People have many options when searching for the best mattress for back pain, from memory foam to latex to innerspring mattresses. Each of these is available in a variety of styles and levels of firmness as well as a broad price range, but which is best for your back? How do you know?
Knowing how your bed plays into back pain is important, as serious complications can result from an achy back including losing hours at work and suffering from a severe lack of sleep. If you have severe back pain issues, consult your doctor before making any changes. Learn more about the correlation between beds and back pain, the materials used to construct mattresses, and how to find the right mattress for relief from back pain.
About the Back Pain Problem
Lower back pain is at nearly epidemic proportions with almost 80% of people in the U.S. suffering at least one bout of backaches (WebMD). Many will go on to develop chronic pain, particularly when caused by an injury, repetitive habit or skeletal problem. A variety of factors can affect back pain including aging, obesity, lack of exercise, smoking, stress, old injuries and strenuous jobs. Depression and anxiety can contribute or worsen the effect by reducing restful sleep.
A bad back can disrupt your day-to-day activities, and can also steal sleep as you struggle to get comfortable. Sleep loss can cause an inability to focus which can lead to accidents, poor performance at work or school and irritability. Long-term deprivation can lead to severe health problems including heart attack and stroke.
Decreasing pain while resting will help ensure a more peaceful night’s rest and increase wakefulness throughout the day. A comfortable bed that supports and aligns the vertebrae and spine is often considered part of an overall treatment program for treating lower back pain.
How do I know if my mattress is the culprit?
Determining the cause of your back pain can be little challenging since there are so many possible sources. If you are searching for the best mattress for back pain, chances are you already believe your bed is the cause, but here are a few tips for determining if your bed is at fault:
- You awake with stiffness and soreness.
- You sleep better at hotels.
- It’s hard to get comfortable at night.
- Your mattress is more than 5-7 years old.
- You see large indentations or feel springs in your bed.
- When you lie down, your body doesn’t feel straight (hips sink down for ex.)
- You are otherwise healthy and active.
If you’re bed isn’t causing your back problems, a new mattress could still improve your situation. A 2008 study from Oklahoma State University links reduced back pain, stiffness and shoulder pain to sleeping on a new mattress. They concluded new sleeping systems can significantly improve multiple sleep variables and that continuous sleep quality may even be dependent on replacing of sleeping systems more frequently. Replacing an old mattress could be the best thing you could do for your back and shoulder pain.
“Our work showed that new mattresses have a considerable impact on reduced back pain and improved sleep quality, among other benefits,” says Bert Jacobson, PhD, lead researcher in the study. “Based on our research, there’s no question that a new mattress can sustain these benefits for just about anyone, regardless of age, weight or gender.”
It is always best to talk with a doctor or chiropractor about serious aches and pains as they might be related to other health issues or lifestyle/occupational issues. However, if you’ve determined that mattress is the problem, then the best way to fix it is to replace your bed with one designed to support your back. Short of this, you could also use a good foam mattress topper if the problem is a bed that is too firm (though for a bed in poor condition or one that lacks support, a topper will not be effective). In the next section, we’ll look at a few important factors to consider in order to soothe back pain with a great mattress.
What is the Perfect Mattress if You Suffer from Back Pain?
This is a complex question and the answer won’t be the same for every person. Studies can show us what works best in general for people, but each person is different. Finding the best mattress for your back pain involves looking at the firmness, mattress type, and your own habits and shape.
Conventional wisdom along with a few older studies suggest that sleeping on a firm mattress is best for those who are suffering from lower back pain. However, in a recent Spanish study, participants reported less pain from medium-firm mattresses than on a firm one. Measurements were reported according to the pain and disability sleepers experienced after initially waking up, 30 minutes later and over a course of 3 months after they had started with the new bed. In the medical world, orthopedic doctors tend to recommend firm mattresses, while chiropractors are more likely to recommend medium-firm.
Best Mattress Firmness for Back Pain? Medium-Firm.
Aligning the spine and supporting curves in the back, shoulders, hips and buttocks is imperative when shopping for the best mattress for back pain. Firm beds are less able to conform to your body and support these curves than those with lesser density. This is especially true with spring mattresses, which have little yield. Medium and medium firm beds are better able to contour to the body while still providing adequate support, eliminating pressure points. Plush and very soft beds may not provide enough support for alignment and they tend to be discouraged for those with back pain.
A 2003 study, designed to assess the effect of different mattress firmnesses on the clinical course of patients with lower back pain, shed some light on this debate. They found a mattress of medium firmness did improve pain and disability among these patients.
The Right Mattress Type for Healing Back Pain
The type of mattress you use also proves important. A mattress that allows your body to settle into a naturally-aligned, straight pose without distortion or strain on your lower back is a great choice for chronic back ailments.
On an innerspring mattress, the springs push up against the heaviest parts of your body: your hips and shoulders. This creates pressure points and leaves the lower portion of your back either entirely unsupported (causing your lumbar area to work overtime), or distorted in an unnatural angle relative to the rest of your spine.
Memory foam and latex mattresses are considered the best combination of support and comfort for sufferers of back pain. This is because these materials conform to your body and distribute your weight in way that allows your entire body to be supported. At this natural, neutral position, your lower back is free to take the night off and decompress the stress from the day. Numerous similarities and differences exist between these two mattress types and both receive excellent reviews from consumers, as much as 20 percent higher than the average for innerspring beds.
Greatest Mattress for Back Pain by Type? Memory Foam & Latex
Many professionals prefer natural latex mattresses as they offer the solid support your body needs while still contouring for comfort and reducing the potential for allergens in your bedroom. Check out our latex mattress comparison to see which brands rate best. We prefer all-natural latex mattresses, like those from Astrabeds.com, which contain zero hazardous chemicals and do not have issues with noxious offgassing or heat retention. Synthetic latex mattresses tend to rate lower and offer fewer health and comfort benefits.
Memory foam is often considered ideal for pain relief since the material eliminates pressure points and readily conforms to your shape. Types of memory foam vary considerably, and you want to ensure you look for a density of 4.0-5.3 lbs to get the best balance of support and conformity. The newest materials are an improvement over those used in the past, as they retain their density levels despite changes in temperatures, improve on heat concerns, and incorporate natural materials. Read more and compare memory foam mattresses in our previous article.
Even if your mattress calms your sore back, the position you sleep in can still affect your comfort. The vast majority of people sleep either on their side or back, and these are considered the best sleeping positions as they increase circulation.
Ideally, no matter what position you choose, you want your body to have a natural, level spine when laying, from head to torso. Your pillow should be thick enough to support this straight position. Generally, your head should not tilt up or backwards from your neck.
According to professionals at the Mayo Clinic, here a the best ways to improve back pain via your sleep position:
- Side Sleepers: Place a pillow between your knees to keep your torso straight.
- Back Sleepers: Place a pillow beneath your knees to relax your back. You can also use a small lumbar cushion under the small of your back for added support.
- Stomach Sleepers: Place a pillow beneath your lower abdomen to reduce back strain. This, however, is the least recommended position for those with back pain.
When it comes to your mattress, you should also take your preferred position into consideration. Side sleeping may cause pressure points and unnatural curves in the spine if the bed does not have enough “padding” to accommodate your body. Back sleepers may prefer firmer beds, and can often be comfortable on less-thick mattresses.
Additional Tips for Back Pain Sufferers Finding the Right Mattress
- Expect a “break-in” period. If you are transitioning from an old unsupportive mattress to a new bed, or to a new type of mattress, then your body may need some time to adjust and decompress.
- Don’t get hung up on professional recommendations, like everyone needs a firm bed. They usually go by average and ideal measures, so if it doesn’t feel right for you than it probably isn’t.
- If you are heavier, or have broad shoulders or hips and sleep on your side, you may need a thicker mattress so that your bed can fully contour to your shape and keep your back aligned without pressure points.
- If you experience back pain no matter which type of mattress you try, it could be that sleeping flat is the issue. Consider trying an adjustable bed base to see if the ability to adjust the incline of your upper body and legs helps.
When your back is aching, getting out of bed can be painful. You may think the best solution is bed rest. Counterintuitively, bed rest and prolonged sitting can aggravate back pain. Surprisingly, movement can really help. Getting up and doing some low impact exercises like walking and stretching will release endorphins, which relieve pain. Moderate exercise can also reduce inflammation and muscle tension.
Identifying the type of support your body needs during rest will help you identify the perfect mattress for back pain relief. Memory foam and latex are available in a variety of support levels and price ranges. Replacing a worn, uncomfortable mattress with one that provides full body support can help eliminate restless nights caused by painful pressure points or a lack of support.
If your mattress is over seven years old, chances are you will feel better with a new mattress, you just need to figure out which is best for you. Researching product specifications, owner reviews, and comparing multiple brands can help you get the best fit, and on the path to better sleep with less pain. The premiere mattress for back pain relief will ultimately depend on your body type, sleep habits, and personal preferences, but the guidelines presented can help give a place to start.