If you suffer with back pain, you’re not alone – estimates reveal that up to 80% of the population experience back pain at some point during their lifetime. Back pain can affect all aspects of your life, including your sleep. Sleeping on the wrong mattress can lead to, or worsen, back pain. Choosing a mattress for chronic back pain can be overwhelming because there are so many options to choose from.
We’ll break down what to look for in the best mattress for back pain, which will hopefully help make your decision a little bit easier.
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Common Causes of Back Pain
The back is a complex structure made up of bones, joints, muscles, and ligaments. Common causes of back pain include strained/sprained muscles and ligaments, disc herniation and ruptures, and/or irritated joints. Various conditions including obesity, arthritis, poor posture, and psychological stress can complicate back pain. Additionally, certain internal organ diseases including kidney infections, kidney stones, blood clots, and osteoporosis can result in back pain
Effect of Back Pain on Sleep
Many patients with chronic back pain experience sleep difficulties, whether it is difficulty finding a comfortable position, staying asleep due to pain, or getting into and out of bed.
Sleep difficulties become an issue because sleep is restorative in nature, both, both psychologically and physiologically, and plays an essential role in memory, immune function, weight regulation, and other vital functions. Sleep deficiency, on the other hand, is associated with a variety of health issues. Short term problems include altered judgment, mood changes, decreased ability to learn and retain new information, decreased work productivity, and higher rates of injury. Long-term issues include an increased risk of obesity, diabetes, cardiovascular disease, and premature death. Ultimately, inadequate sleep due to back pain can drastically affect quality of life.
The lifespan of a mattress depends on the degree, and type, of usage. If you’re constantly waking up with back pain, or if you’ve noticed that your mattress is starting to sag, it’s probably time to invest in a new one. However, even if you’re not waking up with pain, you should still replace your mattress every 7 to 10 years to maintain a healthy spine.
The Question Is What Should I Look for in a Mattress?
When looking for a new mattress for chronic back pain, there are things you should keep in mind, including:
While back pain most commonly occurs in the lower back, it can be felt in other areas of the back too. Therefore, it’s important that your mattress provides continuous support for your body so that your body weight is distributed evenly to alleviate stress on your spine. If there are gaps between your mattress and your body, you’re lacking support and this will eventually lead to joint pain upon waking.
You spine consists of three natural curvatures:
- C-shaped curve of the cervical spine (neck)
- Inverse C-shaped curve of the thoracic spine (mid-upper back)
- C-shaped curve of the lumbar spine (low back)
When you’re lying in bed, it’s essential to maintain these natural curves.
Comfort of your mattress is just as important as finding one that’s supportive. So ensure that the mattress you choose is comfortable before investing it in.
You’ll want to look for a mattress that is breathable. This allows for a cooler, and more comfortable, sleeping temperature
Best Mattress Types for Back Pain
There are a variety of mattress types available if you suffer from chronic back pain, including memory foam, latex, and spring. Let’s take a closer look at these three types of mattresses.
Many individuals find memory foam mattresses to be quite effective for improving sleep and reducing back pain. These improvements occur due to the unique properties of memory foam – mainly, that it has the ability to conform to your body, and relieve pressure points, thereby helping to reduce pain.
When looking at the firmness of foam mattresses you need to look at the density of the foam, options include high, medium, and low. High-density foam (at least 5lbs) provides the most support and encourages proper spinal alignment. Medium density (4lb) offers less body contouring, and low-density (2 to 3lb) provides the least amount of support, and therefore provides the least amount of pain relief.
Orthopedic mattresses consist of thousands of individual springs that are pocketed inside fabric. These mattresses offer full body support because the springs act to contour the body, thereby providing support. When looking at the number of springs, 1,000 to 2,000 springs is adequate for an average sized person, but if you’re heavier than 420lbs, you’ll want to invest in one that has over 2,000 springs. While spring mattresses are adequate for back pain relief, memory foam or latex mattresses are superior.
Optimal Mattress Firmness for Back Pain
When selecting a mattress for chronic back pain, it’s important that you also consider firmness. While research is limited in this area, one study evaluated over 300 people with lower back pain and found that approximately 82% of individuals that used medium-firm mattresses reported decreased pain, compared to 68% sleeping on firm mattresses. Another study supported this research and found that medium-firm mattresses reduced back pain by approximately 48%, and improved sleep quality by 55%.
Patients who used medium firm mattresses were more likely to have improvements in pain related disability than were patients who used firm mattresses (table). The groups did not differ for improvement in pain while lying in bed or improvement in pain on rising
Understanding the Components of a Quality Mattress
Mattress Coils and Springs
The coils of a mattress are made of wire that comes in varying thicknesses. Lower gauge numbers indicate coils made of thicker wire, which equate to a firmer mattress. A higher concentration of coils is indicative of a higher quality mattress but this doesn’t necessarily mean it’s the best option for you. You should test out the different options and determine which mattress suits your body the best.
Mattress Padding on Top of a Mattress
The padding that is on top of the mattress adds an extra layer of comfort and may indicate a higher quality mattress. The more extensive the padding is, the more expensive the mattress tends to be, however, most people find that the extra comfort is well worth the extra cost.
The padding that sits just below the quilted top is typically made of foam. Softer foams tend to feel damp when you touch them while firm foams won’t bounce back as quickly after touching them. The next layer of padding is made from cotton, and the thickness of this layer varies among, and even within, individual mattresses. This results in differing firmness levels throughout the mattress.
This padding sits on top of the coil springs and cannot be felt from the top of the mattress. This type of padding protects the coils from damaging layers near the top of the mattress.
Mattress Quilting and Ticking
Ticking, which is typically polyester or a cotton-polyester blend in high quality mattresses, is on the outer layer of a mattress. The quilting attaches the ticking to the top layers of padding. When evaluating mattresses, take a close look at the quality of stitching, looking for consistent and uninterrupted stiches.
The box spring provides the foundation for the mattress, adds an extra layer of support to the mattress, and helps to prolong the lifespan of a mattress. Foundations typically consist of a metal or wooden frame with springs
Keys to Purchasing a New Mattress
Lie Down on It in the Showroom
Once you’ve narrowed down your choices, lie on any mattress that you’re seriously considering. Aim to spend at least 5 to 10 minutes on each side, on your back, and on your stomach if you’re a stomach sleeper.
Know the Return Policy
At times, you’ll get home and try out your mattress only to find out that it’s not improving your sleep. It’s therefore important to make sure that the store that you’re purchasing from either offers a full refund or credit towards the purchase of another mattress.
Understand the Warranty
Warranties on mattresses range from 10 to 25 years and usually only cover manufacturing defects (broken coils, sagging, etc.). Often times, warranty coverage is pro-rated so the value will decrease over time. Understanding your warranty before you purchase will help to avoid confusion if something goes wrong with your mattress down the road.
Some Simple Tips for Making Sleep More Comfortable
While investing in a new mattress can help to reduce your back pain and improve sleep, there are a number of tips that WebMD suggests for decreasing back pain while you sleep.
Find a sleeping position that is comfortable for you. While sleeping on your back is optimal for back pain, many people find this position difficult. Side sleeping is often beneficial for individuals with back pain. Keep in mind that stomach sleeping should be avoided because it places excess strain on your lower back and neck.
Pillow Loft (Height)
While mattresses are important for preventing and relieving back pain, the choice of pillow is equally important. If your pillow loft isn’t compatible with your mattress, meaning that it’s either too high or too low, then you may experience increased neck, upper back, and/or shoulder pain.
Be Careful Getting in and Out of Bed
When getting in and out of bed use extra caution and avoid bending forward at your waist. Also try to avoid quick and jerky movements as these movements can aggravate back pain. When getting out of bed, roll onto your side, and use your arms to push yourself up. Then swing your legs out of bed and stand up slowly. These movements can then be reversed to get back into bed.
Exercise (Especially Your Core!)
Engaging in regular exercise has many health benefits and can also help you get a better night’s sleep. However, strengthening the muscle of your lower back, pelvis, hips, and abdomen (your core muscles) can help to provide back pain relief by lowering your risk of straining your back and experiencing muscle spasms while you sleep.
Stretch Before Bed
Yoga poses, or stretching, before bed has been shown to reduce lower back pain and can also help to relieve stress, thereby helping you sleep better.
Keep in mind that there isn’t a single mattress that is good for every person. Don’t get discouraged – sometimes finding the perfect one takes a bit of trial and error, but once you’ve found the right one, you’ll be on your way to a better night’s sleep