The Best Mattresses for Back Pain
Navigate through the rest of our guide to see our other mattress recommendations for those sleepers who deal with chronic back pain.
How Back Pain Affects Your Sleep
Chronic back pain keeps millions of people from achieving healthy sleep every night. The connection between back pain and poor sleep is undeniable to anyone who has experienced it, but digging through the literature to find the right solutions can be daunting. The majority of studies conclude that weight distribution during sleep should be evenly distributed to prevent further inflammation of existing injuries and problems. At the end of the day, the best mattress for back pain depends on your unique sleeping needs and habits.
There is no such thing as one size fits all mattress. Each person’s body is unique and has its own specific requirements, so finding the right mattress to meet your needs can be extremely difficult. Ideally, your mattress should provide support for every area of your body equally, but this is almost impossible to fulfill. The only way to meet that objective in a meaningful way is to start with the parts of your body that have the highest point of contact and work from there.
What’s the connection between back pain and sleep?
If your sleeping position causes gravity to weigh more heavily on high pressure zones, such as the hips and shoulders, you could be making your back pain issues much worse without even realizing it. If your mattress is too firm, it can cause aches and pains in pressure point areas. Sleeping on a mattress that is too firm can also make your joints feel stiff or sore. You may wake up feeling as if you ran a marathon or did an intense workout.
Sleeping on a mattress that is too soft can have similar effects but in a more localized way. If the heaviest parts of your body sink too deeply into your mattress, it will cause the weight of all the surrounding areas to rest upon that area. This may cause a bruised feeling or sharp pain in a specific region.
There’s also the factor of comfort. If your mattress is uncomfortable, it will make it more difficult to fall asleep and stay asleep throughout the night. Your body requires a large amount of deep, restful sleep to maintain issues relating to blood flow and inflammation, so the wrong mattress can have far reaching effects on a person’s overall health in a lot of very significant ways.
Potential sources of back pain
A majority of adults complain of experiencing back pain at some point in their lives. There are a wide variety of issues that fall under this category. These include chronic conditions such as scoliosis and degenerative disc disease, as well as injury related conditions.
If injuries resulting from accidents go untreated, it can lead to further stress on the affected region or regions. Repetitive motion injuries are often caused by on the job tasks, and can come on so gradually that they can go unnoticed long after treatments or behavioral adjustments should have been implemented. This can lead to those initial injuries being compounded, resulting in further injury. There is even the possibility of injuring other areas of the body by transferring weight and force to muscles and areas of the body that you wouldn’t otherwise be using for the same purpose.
This could be as simple as adopting a slouching posture to take pressure off of a sore lower back, or as complex as changing your entire routine to avoid engaging the muscles of a whole region of the back. Since our pain receptors are linked to almost every bodily system, the causes for back pain are as plentiful as there are people to experience it, but there are areas of study that have revealed information which can benefit sufferers of a majority of these causes.
Connection between sleep surface and back pain origins
Sleeping on the wrong mattress can have far reaching negative effects on the body. There are a number of scenarios where a person’s preference for firmness runs counter to the needs of their body type.
A heavier person will need thicker comfort layers and firmer support layers to allow for a healthy sleeping position. Failure to maintain a posture which reflects a person’s regular standing posture can push the skeletal structure out of alignment, leading to recurring pain issues.
A lighter than average person, however, will require thinner and softer comfort layers. Support layers should also be thinner and softer. This is because if a person’s body weight doesn’t create a cradle of any kind it can lead to aching muscles and stiff joints. There is a happy medium for each body type, but it’s important to know what your specific weight and body type requires.
For instance, many people don’t know how important weight distribution is when choosing their mattress specifications. A person with uneven weight distribution and a curvier than average body type will require thicker and softer comfort layers. Greater firmness in the support layers will also help maintain a natural sleeping posture.
It follows that people with flatter than average body types, who have a more even distribution of body weight than most consumers, will have different needs to factor into their decision. Support layers will not change, but utilizing thinner, firmer comfort layers will help create a perfect cradle for the body to sink into, without creating support gaps.
Sleep positions and back pain
Back pain has many causes and treatments, but one treatment that can sometimes go overlooked is making a conscious choice about which sleeping position is best to deal with the particular issue you’re facing. It’s the simplest and most direct approach to dealing with chronic pain issues, and can often produce instant results.
People with osteoarthritis, spinal stenosis, and those suffering from a herniated disc often report feeling relief from sleeping on their side, with their knees curled up, otherwise known as the fetal position. This relieves pressure on the nerve root and opens up the facet joints. This effect can also be achieved by elevating the head and knees, a reclining chair being an easy way to reach this position.
For those dealing with degenerative disc disease, and certain types of disc herniation, sleeping on the stomach can be the most beneficial position for relieving symptoms. In the case of degenerative disc disease, using a firmer mattress paired with a flat pillow under the hips and stomach can help increase disc space. This will reduce stress on the lower back, which can help decrease inflammation.
People who have isthmic spondylolisthesis often experience a decrease in sleep associated pain by resting in a reclining position. If a reclining chair isn’t available, it’s possible to get similar results by placing an extra pillow or two behind the head and another pillow beneath the knees.
Sleep positions are important to consider whether you have a chronic pain condition or not. If you are experiencing pain or discomfort in any way it may be worth experimenting with different sleeping positions as well as updating your mattress to fit your body’s changing needs.
How Can Your Mattress Relieve Pain?
What to consider when shopping for the best mattress for back pain:
- Spinal alignment: Spinal alignment is the first thing to take into mind when attempting to treat chronic pain issues associated with or affected by sleep. The natural curvature of the spine should remain uninhibited when a person is sleeping, and should be able to remain in a similar shape to its upright position.
- Comfort: Comfort is usually the first thing a person notices when testing out a new mattress, but it’s arguably also the most important aspect of the decision making process. If you aren’t comfortable when you’re going to sleep it will always be much harder to fall asleep. While it should be expected that any drastic changes in mattress firmness or thickness will require an adjustment period, at no time should a mattress feel uncomfortable to lie on. This is a sign that you may be missing some key factors in finding the right match for your unique body type.
- Pressure Point Relief: The third thing to consider is pressure point relief. It’s not the first thing people think about when they start searching for a new mattress, but when a person has found the correct bed to meet their needs they will experience a release in major pressure points located where their body meets the surface of the mattress. If the bed is too soft this effect will not occur, and if it’s too firm it can cause undue stress to those pressure points, leading to an increase in painful symptoms.
- Cooling: Cooling is ultimately one of the most critical issues when considering which materials you want your mattress to be constructed from. Some fabrics retain heat more than others, while newer developments in bedding technology have yielded materials which can actually decrease trapped heat. This is essential for maintaining healthy sleeping patterns. Cooler temperatures during sleeping hours allows for increased blood flow, and that in turn leads to greater oxidation and more healthful rest.
Memory foam is a great option for average to larger than average-sized people. Its ability to conform to the contours of a person’s body is one of its main selling points. This is ideal for issues that require a bed that can hold the body in a prescribed position, but it can develop problems over time which can lead to a lack of this same support, such as sagging and excessive softness. These problems are not as severe as is often the case with innerspring-based mattresses, but when dealing with chronic pain concerns these issues should be considered very carefully.
The main competitors to memory foam are innerspring/coil mattresses. While these mattresses tend to provide at least fair support, it’s often the case that owners will experience a decrease in the quality of overall support offered by these mattresses after as little as three years. Sagging is the most common problem, but when no sagging occurs, or until that occurs, these mattresses can offer adequate support for people who are larger than average. Sleepers who are of a smaller build may experience support and an inability to properly sink into the mattress.
Hybrid mattresses can often give better than average support. There is a good chance of reaching ideal conforming ability when at least two inches or more of memory foam are present, which makes them a competitive option. These mattresses also offer a good amount of customization when it comes to firmness and cooling options.
Latex has very different properties depending on whether the mattress is made from Dunlop, Talalay, or another type of latex. Dunlop is known for providing better overall support, but all latex can eventually develop an excess in softness as well as defined body impressions. This decreases the amount of support and conforming ability for these mattresses. However, there are often a fair amount of firmness options available for latex mattresses. So if you are having a difficult time finding the right mix of qualifications for your needs this may be a good option to explore.
Airbeds are another attractive and popular option, and it’s no wonder when you look at the list of positive attributes associated with them. In addition to offering a fair amount of conforming ability and the option to adjust firmness, airbeds often have less problems with sagging and loss of support over time. This means you may be able to keep the same mattress for a longer period of time before it needs replacing, as well as the added benefit of being able to make your mattress conform to your changing needs over the course of however many years you own it. However, small to average-sized people may experience pain in the hips or shoulders due to a lack of any sizeable comfort layer.
|Manufacturer||Model||Mattress Type||Our Rating||Price (Queen)|
|Bear Mattress||Memory Foam||9/10||$840|
|Amerisleep AS2||Memory Foam||8.6/10||$1,099|
Mattress Recommendations for Back Pain
This innerspring mattress has individually wrapped coils, edge and lumbar support, and a steel coil support base. It also features a euro pillow top with a memory foam enhancement in the lumbar area. The foam layer underneath the quilted cover offers additional pressure relief and allows for increased air flow.
We chose this mattress because it leans to the firmer side but still offers a good amount of softness and bounce. This mattress works well for people of a larger than average size or for children who require a firmer mattress that will also provide optimal comfort levels.
The Helix is a hybrid option which is extremely customizable, which is a unique feature offered by this company. It even allows the option to make each side of the mattress meet different specifications, so that two people who share a bed can get the support that meets their individual needs. This is especially helpful for couples who share a bed but have extremely different body types and sizes. It’s also a great choice for people who have complicated or very specific needs from their mattress.
By using a fabric called celliant, which can be found in sporting equipment and apparel, Bear creates mattresses which offer a high amount of breathability and heat resistance. This sets Bear apart from other memory foam options on the market.
In addition, Bear products are very adept at providing an even amount of support across the entire body. This means that pressure points have much less stress put upon them throughout the night. This is a great mattress for people who suffer from chronic back pain but tend to experience overheating during the night.
As with most hybrid mattresses, Tomorrow Sleep offers a variety of benefits that mix comfort with support. This brand stands out from others by achieving an impressively low amount of motion transfer as well. This can be a deciding factor for people who have trouble staying asleep through the whole night due to the movements of their sleeping partner.
This mattress does have a slower response time than more traditional memory foams, but the contouring ability is way above average. This feature makes up for the slight difficulty in changing positions that occurs once you have settled in. The full cradling effect of this mattress is so comfortable once the foam adjusts to your frame that it can lead to less tossing and turning during your sleep cycle, which cuts down on the importance of its slow response time.
This is another popular foam mattress option which provides a few unique perks which make it a good option when searching for a new mattress — first and foremost being their incredible warranty. This mattress comes with a 20 year full warranty followed by prorated coverage. A great warranty like that can be a very big deal for consumers who are looking for longevity in their mattress choice. In addition, the Amerisleep AS2 provides full support with an above-average firmness.
Another reason we chose this mattress for chronic pain issues is that it maintains absolute silence no matter how much your partner is shifting during the night, and it has a high amount of motion isolation. People who suffer from recurring pain often have issues with falling asleep if they are woken up in the middle of a sleep cycle. Having a bed that allows for shifting and turning without waking your partner, and won’t wear out on you after a few years of use, is a powerful combination that makes this mattress a great choice.
How is Firmness Measured?
Mattress firmness is rated on a scale of one to ten, ten being the firmest and one being the softest. Of course the experience of firmness will differ greatly from person to person, depending on their size and weight distribution, but this scale offers us a general way to compare firmness between different mattress brands and models.
Doctors and chiropractors roundly agree that firmer beds are better for general health and well-being than softer ones, but how does that advice relate to this measurement scale?
Generally speaking, mattresses rated above the five mark will be better suited to fit the needs of people seeking a mattress that provides a greater than average amount of support. However, there are several other key factors to take into account beyond the firmness rating. The materials, amount of customizability, and the number of layers used when constructing the mattress can all affect the overall feeling of firmness that a sleeper will ultimately experience.
Is a Firm Mattress Right for You?
Although, as stated above, doctors tend to recommend a firmer mattress for healthy, restful sleep, it’s not the ideal choice for every type of sleeper. Those who tend to be light sleepers, or who primarily sleep on their side, will benefit greatly from a softer mattress.
Firmness is not a universal concept though. Many people will have very different impressions of the same mattress from one another. This has to do with many aspects, but the big three are size, weight, and weight distribution.
If you are 160 pounds, but most of your weight is located in your middle section, this is going to affect your overall experience of a mattress and its level of firmness or softness. If your midsection is properly supported but your head and feet feel like they are resting on solid rock, there is a disconnect between how the different regions of your body are reacting to that specific bed. This is why it’s important to test out different beds in person so that you can get a general feeling for how mattress firmness is experienced by your unique body type.
Firmer beds are better suited for heavy sleepers, those who primarily sleep on their back or stomach, and larger or heavier than average body types. It’s also highly recommended for people who suffer from certain types of back pain.
Hot sleepers may also find relief in a firmer mattress. By providing a greater amount of support, there is less heat transfer between the surface of the bed and the body of the sleeper. There are a variety of new technologies which aid in this effect, such as Celliant fabric, but a hard mattress will almost always provide a greater extent of success in this region than its softer counterparts.
Back Pain Sufferers.
Back pain is a critically important factor in the decision of whether you are the right candidate for a firm or extra firm bed or not. There is a large body of science to support the claim that a firm bed will provide better care for those suffering from pain issues. That’s because the curvature of the spine needs to be properly cradled and supported throughout the night to ensure that it is resting in a shape which is similar to its shape in an upright position. A firmer bed is better equipped to keep spinal alignment in a healthy range no matter which position a sleeper tends to maintain.
Side sleepers watch out.
People who sleep on their side, or sleep very lightly, report a less comfortable experience of firm beds. That’s because the pressure points on the body receive a greater deal of stress when you lie on your side, so a mattress has to respond with more softness and cradling.
If a bed is too firm it may affect how soundly a person sleeps as well. If they already tend to be light sleepers this can cause a person to wake up during the night, which leads to a greater amount of strain on the whole body system. This would certainly imply a need for a softer mattress. Looking into a hybrid option which offers the best of both worlds may also be an attractive options for people who are looking for the optimal support of a firm mattress but need the softness and sinkage of a softer bed.
Heavier than average body types will require a firmer mattress overall, but their impression of the rating scale will differ greatly from people who are smaller than them. This is why it’s very important to make sure you are getting information from a place of personal experience and research so that the information you find in your search for the perfect bed will be relevant to your specific body type and experience.
Benefits of a Firm Mattress
There are a wide variety of benefits to choosing a firm bed. First of all, when a bed is more firm, it is less likely to sag with age. This is incredibly important for heavier than average body types who move around a good bit throughout the night. If your bed is having to adjust to your movements and a large amount of weight, its overall construction will suffer greatly over time.
A firm mattress also provides a larger amount of edge support. If you have significant back pain and have a difficult time getting in and out of bed, this is going to be a very important factor for you to consider. A bed that is softer is going to maintain its shape for a shorter amount of time, and although you may be able to get in and out of bed fairly easily at the beginning, after a couple of years you may find that it gets significantly more difficult as the response and durability of the edges start to break down.
Sleepers who experience an unpleasant amount of heat during the night report a much better amount of airflow, and less trapped body heat when using a firm or very firm mattress. This, combined with greater bounce and a substantially increased amount of reaction, make firmness an important aspect of a mattresses qualifications for couples. Sharing a bed means adjusting to another person’s weight, as well as having to take into account a doubled amount of body heat. All of these reasons combined show a broad range of reasons to choose a firm or extra firm bed, depending on your needs.
Foam mattresses are typically constructed using latex foam, memory foam, high-density foam, or some combination of the three. Companies have also recently started incorporating polyurethane and visco-elastic foams with a portion of plant-based content.
Although not traditionally considered to be great materials for achieving a mattress that rates high on the firmness scale, new advancements in mattress technology have raised the profile of firm foam bedding options significantly. There are now a wide variety of options available which satisfy the need for support and hardness in a mattress while also providing the comfort and sinkage associated with foam.
There are two main types of latex available on the market today, those being latex derived using the Talalay or the Dunlop process. Latex is generally created using a blend of the latex of the rubber tree and synthetic latex, which is made from petrochemicals, as well as other substances and fillers.
Latex has seen a resurgence in popularity with the increase in new latex materials which can provide a more durable and supportive product for the needs of the market. The amount of latex models which advertise impressive amounts of firmness and responsiveness is ever growing, with no sign of slowing down.
Hybrid mattresses are made using a mixture of foam and innerspring technologies (usually individually pocketed coils). Hybrid mattresses allow a mattress company to offer as wide a range of options within one product as possible. This means that someone who has very defined needs from their mattress can find options to meet all of their needs without having to spend an exorbitant amount of money to achieve that aim.
Innerspring is the traditional bed designs that most of us grew up sleeping on. They have also experienced the same influx of scientific research being implemented to increase the quality and diversity of options available for this bedding material option.
Traditionally known for offering a high amount of support and bounce, these materials have developed in the use of individually pocketed coils to offer less motion transference and a greater amount of contouring to fit the specific shape of the sleepers unique body shape.