People have many options when searching for the best mattress for back pain, from memory foam to latex to innerspring mattresses. Each of these mattress types 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 the impact your bed can have on 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. Below we’ve outlined the correlation between beds and back pain, the materials used to construct mattresses, and how to find the right mattress for back pain relief.
Best Mattresses for Back Pain
|Mattress||Highlights||Price for a Queen|
|Amerisleep AS3||HIVE® technology facilitates healthier sleeping positions and alleviates pressure points.||$1199|
|Zoma Mattress||Triangulex™ technology provides dynamic support to maintain neutral spinal alignment.||$750|
|Vaya Mattress||High-density support core promotes spinal alignment while extending the mattress’s lifespan.||$595|
We recommended the Amerisleep AS3 for those suffering from back pain. The 3 inches of Bio-Pur® foam provides pressure-free support around hips and shoulders, which prevents sinking and promotes spinal alignment. The layer of HIVE® technology in the AS3 provides zoned support, making it firmer around areas that need it most, the head, shoulders, back, hips, and feet. Its responsiveness makes it ideal for both side and back sleepers, while the firmness allows it to work well for light and heavy sleepers. If you’re a stomach sleeper, you’ll likely prefer a firmer mattress for better support.
Bio-Pur® also has a unique advanced open-cell structure that allows air to flow through the foam without compromising on support; this makes Bio-Pur® 5 times more breathable than traditional memory foam.
Amerisleep offers a 100-night risk-free trial period and a 20-year warranty.
The goal of the Zoma mattress is to provide deep, restorative sleep so you can live an active and healthy lifestyle. The first 2 layers of foam in this mattress contribute to muscle recovery and help to provide relief from back pain. The first layer is two inches of gel-infused memory foam that promotes pressure-free support that is also cooling. This layer also contains Triangulex™ which gives added support to the midsection where bodyweight tends to be heaviest.
The second layer contains Reactiv™, a highly-responsive foam that is comfortable, supportive and acts as a transition layer between the softness of the comfort layer and the firmness of the base layer. All 3 layers combine to create a mattress that facilitates pain-free rest.
Zoma offers a 100-night risk-free trial period and a 10-year warranty.
The Vaya mattress is an affordable alternative to the Amerisleep AS3 and Zoma mattresses mentioned above. Instead of containing 3 layers of foam, Vaya uses two high-quality foam layers. Both materials are CertiPUR-US® certified, ensuring that no harmful chemicals were used in the construction of the mattress.
The comfort layer of the Vaya mattress contains an open-cell foam that is similar to the Amerisleep AS3. This layer provides contouring for joints and helps to wick warm air away from the body. The second layer contains a high-density, pressure-relieving foam that creates an even sleep surface. The cover on the Vaya mattress is made of a soft, breathable material designed to reduce heat retention.
Vaya offers a 100-night risk-free trial period and a 10-year warranty.
Understanding Back Pain
Lower back pain is at nearly epidemic proportions with almost 80 percent of people in the U.S. suffering at least one bout of backaches. 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, stress, old injuries, and strenuous jobs. Depression and anxiety can contribute to or worsen the effects 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 good night’s sleep and increase wakefulness throughout the day. A comfortable bed that is supportive and promotes a healthy spinal alignment is often considered part of an overall treatment program for addressing back pain.
How Back Pain Affects Sleep
The term “back pain” is used to describe a wide range of pain in both the upper and lower back. This term can apply to acute pain which comes on suddenly and lasts between 6 to 12 weeks. It can also apply to chronic pain that lasts longer than 3 months. Although they both range in severity, both can interfere with our ability to get a full night of sleep.
Below we have outlined some of the most common causes of back pain and how they can disrupt sleep.
Muscle or Ligament Strain
Heavy lifting or sudden awkward movements may strain back muscles and spinal ligaments. If straining is consistent, it can result in muscle spasms. These muscle spasms make it difficult to rest comfortably.
Bulging or Ruptured Disks
Between the bones of the spine (vertebrae), disks made of soft material help provide a cushion. When these disks become damaged, they can bulge or rupture and press on sensitive nerves. This nerve pressure often results in back pain. When laying down at night, it can put additional pressure on these sensitive disks.
Arthritis can lead to painful soreness and stiffness in the joints. Those who suffer from arthritis tend to experience chronic and widespread pain, making it tough for them to fall asleep and stay asleep.
We have outlined the most common types of arthritis below.
- Osteoarthritis. The most common form of arthritis and is caused when the protective cartilage between bones begins to deteriorate.
- Rheumatoid. This begins when the body’s natural defense system begins to attack the joints, resulting in inflammation and pain.
- Psoriatic. This is connected to psoriasis, a skin condition that results in red patches on top of the skin. Joint pain, stiffness, and swelling typically accompany this type of arthritis.
Back pain can also be a result of skeletal irregularities that affect the curve of the spine. Everyone’s spine has a natural curve to it, but if your spine curves too far inward, it can cause lordosis, also referred to as swayback. When your spine curves too far outward, it results in kyphosis or a hunched back. A sideways curvature of the spine is referred to as scoliosis. Although these conditions don’t directly cause back pain, they can cause spasms in other muscles in the back or elsewhere in the body. When other muscles have to overcompensate for weakness in the back, they can become sore and tired.
Skeletal irregularities are typically diagnosed early in life but tend to lead to chronic back pain in adulthood. Those dealing with these irregularities often have trouble finding a sleep position that is comfortable and supportive.
Osteoporosis typically occurs later in life and results in brittle, weakened bones. Because of this, falls and mild stresses can cause dangerous fractures. These fractures typically occur in hips, wrists, and spine and tend to leave debilitating pain in their wake.
Additional Risk Factors
Although the above conditions are some of the most common causes of back pain, certain factors can also put you at higher risk of developing back pain.
- Age. Back pain is very common, but most people begin to experience significant back pain after the age of 30.
- Lack of exercise. A lack of exercise can often lead to weak or unconditioned muscles resulting in aches and pains in the neck and back.
- Obesity. Excessive weight can put a strain on the back muscles leading to pain and discomfort.
- Excessive or incorrect lifting. Constant heavy lifting can strain the back muscles can cause spasms. Incorrect lifting can cause ruptured disks or damage to spinal ligaments.
- Mental health issues. Pain and depression are often linked. In some cases, depression and anxiety can manifest in physical symptoms such as back pain.
Is Your Mattress the Culprit?
Determining the cause of your back pain can be a little challenging since there are many possible reasons. Those reasons can be related to health issues or lifestyle choices, but sleeping on an unsupportive mattress can also be a big contributor to back pain.
To help you determine if your mattress is no longer supporting you, look for the following signs:
- 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 to 8 years old.
- Your mattress shows signs of sagging or dipping in the center.
- You see large indentations or feel springs in your bed.
- When you lie down, your body doesn’t feel straight (hips or shoulders sink down excessively)
- 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 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, Ph.D., 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.
It is important to remember that mattresses are not one-size-fits-all. Whether you suffer from upper or lower back pain, it is important to first consider your preferred sleep position before determining which mattress will help to alleviate your back pain.
Side Sleepers With Back Pain
The vast majority of people sleep on their side, which is fortunate considering it is widely thought to be the best sleeping position as it’s known to increase circulation. Side sleeping tends to work well for those with back pain since it helps promote a healthy spinal alignment.
However, a soft mattress can cause the spine to curve due to sinking. Excessive sinking can cause painful pressure points to form in the hips and shoulders. Therefore, side sleepers who suffer from back pain should try a mattress that is firm enough to create an even sleep surface. A medium to medium-firm all-foam mattress is perfect for this.
Side sleepers with upper back pain may benefit from sleeping on a pillow that contours to the head and neck in order to fill the space between the neck and the mattress. Be sure to purchase a pillow with the correct loft for you. Ideally, it should be between 3 to 6 inches. If the thickness is too low, your head will sink and remain unsupported as you sleep. If the thickness is too high, you can put pressure on the head and neck. Therefore, we recommend a medium loft for side sleepers.
Side sleepers dealing with low back pain can benefit from placing a pillow between their knees. This helps to keep the torso straight and encourages spinal alignment. If you suffer from a ruptured or bulging disk, sleeping on your side in the fetal position can help to put space between the vertebrae which can also help alleviate pain.
Read More: Best Mattress for Side Sleepers
Back Sleepers with Back Pain
Back sleeping is the second most common sleep position and it also helps promote spinal alignment. Since weight is evenly distributed across the widest part of your body while back sleeping, this position helps to eliminate pressure points.
Like side sleeping, back sleepers should also look for a mattress that is able to provide even support across the body. For this, we recommend a medium to medium-firm mattress. A mattress that is too firm can cause gaps between the lower back and mattress. A mattress that is too soft will cause excessive sinking and cause the spine to become misaligned.
Back sleepers may also find relief by placing a pillow beneath their knees to help relax the back. A small lumbar cushion under the small of the back can also add additional support.
Stomach Sleepers With Back Pain
Since stomach sleepers are most likely to experience back or neck pain, this position is not recommended. The angle of your head in this position makes it difficult for your spine to sustain a neutral position which often results in increased pain. Additionally, the concentration of weight on the stomach in this position causes sinking, forcing the spine out of alignment.
However, if it’s difficult to sleep in any other position, stomach sleepers who experience back pain will want to purchase a firmer mattress to prevent sinking. A memory or latex foam mattress that is medium to medium-firm should work well. Placing a pillow beneath the lower abdomen can help stomach sleepers reduce back strain.
Choosing the Best Mattress for Back Pain
In addition to your own habits and preferred sleep position, finding the best mattress for your back pain will also involve looking at firmness levels and mattress types.
Conventional wisdom along with a few older studies suggests that sleeping on a firm mattress is best for those who are suffering from lower back pain. In a recent Spanish study, participants reported less pain from medium-firm mattresses than firm ones. 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.
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 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 and 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.
Mattress firmness is typically described using a firmness scale which ranges from 1 to 10. 1 being the least firm and 10 being the firmest. Many mattresses on the market today will fall between 3 (on the softer side) and 8 (on the firmer side). A medium-firm mattress will fall between 6 and 6.5 on the scale and is typically the most common.
Bodyweight will also play a role in choosing a suitable firmness level. Our list below outlines the ideal firmness levels for each different weight group.
- Less than 130 lbs.: Side and stomach sleepers will want a firmness between 3 to 4.5 on the firmness scale, while back sleepers will want between 4 and 5.5.
- 130 to 230 lbs.: Side and back sleepers will want a firmness between 5 and 6.5, while stomach sleepers will want between 4 and 5.5.
- More than 230 lbs.: Side and back sleepers will want a firmness between 6.5 and 8 on the firmness scale, while stomach sleepers will want 6 to 7.5.
Best Mattress Types for Back Pain
The firmness levels we have outlined above also come in varies mattress types. 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 those suffering from chronic back pain. Below we have outlined the 5 most common mattress types and how they can aid in back pain relief.
Memory Foam Mattress
Memory foam, or viscoelastic foam, is a highly responsive, low-density foam typically used in the comfort layer of many mattresses, where it is closest to the body. Many all-foam mattresses also use memory foam in the top layer, with a high-density foam as the base layer.
Sleepers dealing with back pain often find all-foam mattresses helpful because they promote a healthy spinal alignment and provide pressure relief. This is because these materials conform to your curves and distribute your weight in ways that allow 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. With the emergence of the bed in a box trend, affordable, high-quality, all-foam mattresses are widely available.
The drawback of an all-foam mattress is their tendency to trap heat. In order to avoid this, look for a mattress that includes one of the following cooling technologies within their foam layers.
- Celliant®: Celliant helps move heat away from the body and is also known to promote muscle recovery.
- Graphite Infusion: Graphite is a well-known heat conductor and is able to dissipate body heat when used in a mattress.
- Cooper Infusion: Due to its unique cooling abilities, many mattress companies have started infusing their mattresses with cooper. Cooper is also antimicrobial and believed by some to promote healing and pain relief.
- Gel Infusion: A gel memory foam mattress can help by absorbing body heat and holding it in the mattress. However, the heat held within the mattress will eventually dissipate. Before purchasing a gel-infused mattress, look to the customer reviews to be sure that it is truly a cooling mattress.
- Advanced Open-Cell Foam: All foam mattresses feature open-cell foam (as closed-cell foam is more often found in things such as exercise mats). Open-cell foam has tiny air bubbles throughout the mattress, giving it a quick response time and more breathability. Advanced open-cell foam has larger air bubbles and allows for better airflow and less heat retention.
Read More: Best Memory Foam Mattresses
Latex Foam Mattress
Many bed in a box companies are also utilizing latex foam in their mattresses. Like memory foam, latex mattresses are made up of a high-density base of either latex or polyfoam, with a low-density top layer. There are two different types of natural latex foam, Talalay and Dunlop. Both foams are produced from the sap of the rubber tree, but Talalay has chemicals added to it, while Dunlop does not. Although Dunlop is more natural, both these foams have a low environmental impact, making them eco-friendly.
Many sleepers suffering from back pain 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. To reduce the effect on allergies, look for a latex mattress that is 100 percent natural and organic. A GOLS (Global Organic Latex Standard) certification can ensure you are getting a latex mattress that was produced without the use of harmful chemicals. A 100 percent natural latex is also a more breathable material that can help to regulate body temperature.
Hybrid mattresses are a combination of both innerspring coils and foam. The support based is made up of pocketed coils, while the top layer is made of foam. In order to be considered a true hybrid, the mattress must have at least 3 inches of either latex or memory foam in the comfort layer.
These mattresses can be beneficial for back pain sufferers because the layers of foam provide pain-free support, while the coil system provides a sturdy, even base. The coils in most hybrid mattresses are specifically placed in order to provide zoned support. Air also tends to flow more freely through a hybrid mattress, which helps prevent overheating.
Because hybrid mattresses are not great at reducing motion transfer, be sure to look for a hybrid mattress with reinforced perimeters if you sleep with a partner. This will ensure that you do not feel any movement throughout the night.
Innerspring mattresses are very common. In fact, these mattresses make up about ⅓ of all mattress sales. The supportive base of most innerspring mattresses is made of individually wrapped spring coils, while the comfort layer is made of foam, down, or cotton.
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. Therefore, innerspring mattresses are not typically recommended for those suffering from back pain.
Airbeds utilize air as the supportive base, with foam as the top layer. The air-filled support layer can be customized by the sleeper, allow them to inflate or deflate the air pressure to change the firmness. Air beds can work well for back pain because they offer no pressure support and accommodate both light and heavy sleepers.
However, sleepers often spend time achieving the perfect firmness of their air mattress, only to find it deflated when they return to bed. The inconvenience of having to constantly adjust the firmness level can make these mattresses less than ideal.
A mattress topper is a separate comfort layer that can be added to your mattress. This is ideal if you are uncomfortable with your current mattress but unable to purchase a new one right away. A memory or latex foam topper will be considerably less expensive than purchasing a new mattress and can be a quick way to find relief from back pain.
Since toppers allow sleepers to adjust firmness, you can shop for a topper that compensates for your current mattresses firmness. For example, a mattress topper can give the bed a more firm feel, which is helpful if your current mattress is too soft. Other toppers can provide softness to a mattress that is too firm. However, it is important to remember that a mattress topper will not compensate for a mattress that is sagging or broken down. A mattress that bows inward will remain the same even with a topper.
Additional Mattress Concerns
In addition to the comfort of the mattress, you will also want to consider a few other points when purchasing a mattress. Refer to our list below to make sure you are getting the most for your money.
Since it takes around 2 to 4 weeks to determine if a mattress is a good fit for you, you will want to be sure to purchase a mattress with a trial period. A 90-day sleep trial is the industry standard, so a suitable trial period should not be difficult to find.
Most companies offer a return policy that is similar to their sleep trial period. If your new mattress is not helping with your back pain, you will want to make sure you have the ability to return it.
Most mattresses come with a 10-year warranty. Some companies will also include prorated coverage after the 10-year mark. This allows the customer to pay a percentage of the total cost of the mattress in order to get it repaired or replaced. Since the lifespan of most mattresses is between 5 and 8 years, a lifetime warranty does not give the mattress additional value.
Ratings and Reviews
When shopping for a new mattress, be sure to read customer reviews and ratings. These reviews are a great way to get honest feedback on the comfort and support the mattress offers. If possible, look for customers who also suffer from back pain to see if they were able to find relief with the mattress.
Reputation and Transparency
When considering a new mattress, you will also want to look into the reputation of the company. Look for companies that are open about where and how their mattresses are produced. Also be sure that they provide a variety of customer reviews, both positive and negative.
Additional Tips for Back Pain Sufferers
- 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.
- Ignore one-size-fits-all claims. 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 then it probably isn’t.
- Be mindful of thickness. If you are heavier, or have broad shoulders or hips and sleep on your side, you may need a thicker mattress so your bed can fully contour to your shape and keep your back aligned without pressure points.
- Consider an adjustable bed. 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.
- Moving your body. If 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 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.
Is a Firm Mattress Better for Back Pain?
Those suffering from back pain will want to opt for a mattress that is medium-firm. A mattress that is too soft does not provide good support and can cause the spine to sink. A mattress that is too firm can push against the spine and cause painful pressure points to form.
Are Memory Foam Mattresses Good For Back Pain?
Memory foam mattresses promote a healthy spinal alignment and provide pressure-free support, making them ideal for those that suffer from upper and lower back pain.
What is the Best Mattress For Side Sleepers With Back Pain?
Most side sleepers who suffer from chronic back pain prefer a mattress that is medium to medium-firm. These mattresses are able to provide responsive support without the risk of forming pressure points on the heaviest parts of the body, the hips and shoulders.
Are You Ready to Find Your Best Mattress?
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, mattress 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 give you a place to start.