2020 Research

Back Pain Mattress Guide

Read our complete Back Pain Mattress Guide Below

Approximately 80% of adults have to deal with back pain at one point or another of their life. It’s a common symptom of nerve and muscular concerns, spinal stenosis, arthritis, and degenerative disc disease, amongst other conditions. As a result, back pain is the most common contributing factor in both sick days taken from work and job-related disability.

The sheer variety of potential causes is one of the reasons that back pain is as common as it is. Chronic back pain can result from lifestyle factors, such as obesity, while it can also be caused by physical injuries like accidents and muscle strains. A lack of sleep has also been shown to greatly exacerbate or cause back pain.

Despite the wide range of causes, treatment tends to be much more consistent. Changes to the diet and lifestyle, medication learning how to manage the symptoms, physical therapy, and sometimes surgery are most often recommended.

When it comes to the treatment of back pain, sleep plays a significant role. A lack of sleep can cause or exacerbate back pain, to begin with. Back pain can interrupt and prevent sleep, however, leading to a vicious cycle where pain and sleeplessness continue to contribute to one another. A new mattress might just be the best way to break that cycle.

What type of mattress is best for back pain?

The graph below shows the pain-relieving ability of the different mattress types based on actual owner experiences from Sleep Like The Dead research and other 3rd parties collected information. The types that are better at reducing back, hip and shoulder pain are more supportive, less likely to sag and more likely to have effective conforming ability. Please be aware that some mattresses brands or models this may not be the case from time to time, but in general we’ve found this data to be the closest representation across the industry.

 

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Air mattress

One of the biggest benefits of an air mattress is that you adjust the firmness levels on either side of the mattress. This allows you to alter how soft or firm it feels, but that’s not all. The latest models use modern tech that uses air chambers, allowing pressure on the body to be relieved.  Most commonly used for medical purposes, it’s largely considered the best choice when selecting a mattress for Back Pain, Degenerative Disc Disease, Hip BursitisArthritis, & more.

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Memory foam mattress

One of the most popular modern mattress designs, memory foam is designed to do exactly as described. Ultimately you can sink into this mattress, so it perfectly hugs your form. It can even adapt to different shapes and temperatures while also being great for people who suffer from allergies. Reducing pressure on joints or muscles, the sinking design can also help people maintain the correct posture and sleep straight.

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Latex mattress

Filled with foam, these mattresses are breathable, so they are perfect if you have allergies, asthma or issues with overheating. These mattresses are durable too and are great if you need solid support for your back. However, like the pocket spring mattress, they are also heavy enough that turning is difficult.

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Pocket spring / Hybrid mattress

This is a more advanced spring mattress and can once again be suitable for a wide range of different individuals. You can get a pocket spring mattress designed for a range of different needs including medium, firm or soft varieties. The design of this mattress also ensures that they are breathable, ideal for hot summer evenings. You will however, have trouble turning these mattresses due to the weight, and they are often filled with natural materials. Worried about weight issues?

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Open spring mattress

This is a budget-friendly choice that could certainly provide a fantastic bed for the kids or even guests, but may not be something that you want as your main mattress. Often known as a continuous-coil or even an open-coil mattress, they have a clever design. The metal pieces are coiled into springs while there is also a rod/wire to make sure that they stay the right shape. They’re even easy to turn over when necessary.

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How back pain prevents sleep

It’s not difficult to imagine that severe pain can get in the way of sleep. However, even those with somewhat lighter kinds of back pain can find a lot of trouble settling in for the night. This is, in part, due to the increased awareness of pain. When you’re in bed at night, you don’t have as many stimuli distracting you from the pain. Because there is no distraction, you become more aware of the pain, which can make it feel worse.

What’s more, back pain and sleeping position are very much interlinked. As your experiences of back pain worsen, you may not be able to sleep comfortably in the same position you once could and might have to try a variety of positions. Lying in new positions, however, can be awkward and uncomfortable, to begin with, preventing sleep as you try to get used to it.

Other lifestyle factors related to back pain can play role. Back pain can make it hard to engage in physical exercise, which also leads to trouble with sleep. Medication that has been prescribed as a treatment for back pain might also be a factor. Pain management medication, such as opioids, can negatively impact sleep, such as causing sleep apnea.

Key factors to look for regarding back pain relief

As mentioned, your individual needs may be very different from other people suffering from back pain. However, there are some key factors that should be considered when you’re considering a new mattress. Here are the six you should be concerned with.

Support & Spinal Alignment

Posture is important to sleep. When you sleep, your muscles and connective tissues must be able to rest and heal naturally. A bad mattress can get in the way of this by failing to provide the proper support for the spine if it’s too firm or too soft. The right choice of mattress can change from person to person. For instance, someone with wide hips may need a slightly softer surface with more give to let their hips sink in and keep the spine in alignment. If you have narrower hips, too much give can take your spine out of alignment, leading to pain.

Adjustability

Adjustability can come in 2 forms, your mattress and/or adjustable bed.  A mattress that allows firmness adjustability (typically an air bed) can allow you or your partner to adjust the firmness on their side of the mattress.  Making it customizable to an individuals weight, pain or sleep issue and firmness preference.  On the other hand, an adjustable bed can elevate the top half of the bed or the lower half by six inches or more, to help with both back pain and acid reflux issues.

Pairing both together will provide you with the highest amount of comfort and pain relief from your back pain.  Please note: If you choose to purchase an adjustable bed as well, you make sure that the mattress is compatible. For instance, most mattresses thicker than 13 inches aren’t flexible enough to work with adjustable beds.

Clinically Proven Trials

Testing it yourself can help you see the results in person, but if a bed is either hospital tested or clinically proven, it means it has most likely been used by medical professionals in settings such as hospitals. Often, such mattresses are used to prevent bedsores in long-term patients, but the prevention of bedsores is achieved by body weight displacement, which also relieves the pressure that can cause pain on the back and joints throughout the body.

Finding a mattress that fits all of the categories mentioned above is your best bet for being able to achieve a good night’s sleep with back pain. When researchers from Oklahoma State University randomly assigned 62 people to sleep in a variety of new beds for 28 days, they found that almost everyone started to sleep better. That was true regardless of which model they were given, though people who slept in the cheapest beds did report more lower back pain than those in the medium- and higher-priced beds.

Available for Sleep Trials

To know whether a mattress works or not, you naturally have to test it. Some people find the right mattress for them by copying the product number they find on a hotel bed. However, you can test mattresses from providers by taking advantage of trials they have that allow you to see whether it works or not. For instance, Natural Form has a 100 Night Sleep Trial Guarantee. If you still find that the mattress you have chosen isn’t right for you within 100 nights of sleep, you can receive a 100% refund.

 

Types & causes of back pain

Back pain can apply to several different concerns and conditions but is often divided into two categories. Acute pain is sudden, very sharp, and often has a single direct cause but rarely lasts longer than six months once the initial cause heals or is treated. Chronic pain lasts much longer, often manifesting even when the underlying cause, if one of found, is no longer a concern.

Both acute and chronic back pain can arise out of a range of injuries and conditions. Some individuals suffer chronic pain even without an apparent cause such as a visible injury. Other causes are more routinely identified as causal factors, however, such as:

Arthritis

Swelling or inflammation of the joints that can cause high levels of joint pain and stiffness. There are over 100 forms of arthritis, and many cases where no cause is found. These types include rheumatoid arthritis, where the synovium (a material lining the joints) is affected, and osteoarthritis, during which the bone cartilage deteriorates

Fibromyalgia

A consistent, chronically painful syndrome. Muscle pain and fatigue across the body characterizes fibromyalgia, but back pain is one of the most common symptoms, presenting in over half the people suffering from the syndrome.

Degenerative Disc Disease

Intervertebral discs of the spine can naturally break down over time, due to minor injuries, age, and wear and tear.

Herniated Disc

Also known as a slipped or ruptured disc, this most commonly affects the lower back.

Spinal Stenosis

Characterized by when the bone channel in the spine narrows, which can cause pressure on the spinal cord and nerves.

Sciatica

This condition is when a disc, bone spur, or other changes to the spine (such as spinal stenosis) compresses a section of the sciatic nerve, leading to pain, numbness, and inflammation in the lower back and the leg where the nerve is being compressed.

Though these conditions are far from a comprehensive list of causes of back pain, they are some of the most common. What’s more, they can all be improved with a change of your mattress.

 

Natural Form®

Therapeutic Mattresses

Trying to find the right mattress for back pain? Take a look at our therapeutic mattress collection below.

Natural Form®

Therapeutic Mattresses

Trying to find the right therapeutic mattress? Take a look at our mattress collection below

Frequently asked questions

What are the best sleeping positions with back pain?

The right mattress is a good start when it comes to managing back pain as you rest, but it’s not the only thing that matters. Here are some sleep position tips to help even further:

Lying on your left or right side:

Ensure the full side is in contact with the mattress, including the shoulder, then push a pillow in between your knees. As a result, your spine, pelvis and hips can stay in alignment. If you have a gap between your waist and the mattress, a pillow in there can help as well. When using this position, switch sides occasionally to stop muscle imbalance.

Lie in the fetal position:

Which involves lying on your side, tucking your knees up to your chest gently and curling your torso around your knees. As a result, you can open some space between the vertebrae, offering them some relief.

Lie as flat on your back as you possibly can:

Then, insert a pillow beneath the knees, which helps to maintain your lower back’s natural curve. This can be further helped by placing a rolled-up towel beneath the lower back.

Lying on your stomach:

This can exacerbate back pain because of increased stress to the neck. However, if you regularly sleep on your stomach, you can slip a pillow between the abdomen or pelvis to raise them and take pressure off the back.

How firm should a mattress be for back pain?

MEDIUM firmness (4.5 - 7 on the mattress scale) in most cases is firm enough to provide support but soft enough to provide conforming ability for average- to small-sized people. Large people (230 lbs+) may find that medium lacks adequate support and allows them to sink too far into the mattress.  Although this firmness usually offers the best overall support because it has enough contouring support to reduce pressure points while not permitting excessive sinking into the mattress.

How to get a good night's sleep with back pain?

Back pain manifests in a variety of ways, but a common factor is that certain positions and movements can exacerbate or alleviate it. Some people have pain that worsens when standing. Others experience it when they bend or straighten. Some have leg pain that comes with it, or muscle stiffness, making it even harder to sleep.

A new mattress, catering to your specific needs, may be crucial to achieving a good night’s sleep. Old, worn down mattresses may only cause more discomfort, while mattresses that are either too firm or too soft may make it impossible to find a position that gives your back some relief.

Besides the mattress, better positioning can also be achieved with adjustable beds, since a reclining position can be much more comfortable than lying horizontally for some people.

Why type of mattress is good for back pain?

The graph below shows the pain-relieving ability of the different mattress types based on actual owner experiences from Sleep Like The Dead research and other 3rd parties collected information. The types that are better at reducing back, hip and shoulder pain are more supportive, less likely to sag and more likely to have effective conforming ability. Please be aware that some mattresses brands or models this may not be the case from time to time, but in general we’ve found this data to be the closest representation across the industry.

pain-and-mattress-types