Types and 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:
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
See Mattress Guideline for Arthritis
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.
See Mattress Guideline for Fibromyalgia
Degenerative disc disease:
Intervertebral discs of the spine can naturally break down over time, due to minor injuries, age, and wear and tear
See Mattress Guideline for Degenerative disc disease
Also known as a slipped or ruptured disc, this most commonly affects the lower back.
See Mattress Guideline for Herniated disc
Characterized by when the bone channel in the spine narrows, which can cause pressure on the spinal cord and nerves.
See Mattress Guideline for Spinal stenosis
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.
See Mattress Guideline for Sciatica
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 treated with a change of your mattress.
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.
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.
See 14 Tell-tale signs you need a new mattress
Though the specifics can change from person to person, using beds such as Natural Form can help you find the perfect balance of comfort and support that is essential when it comes to getting sleep. 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.
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:
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.
What are the 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.
Finding a mattress that’s not too firm or too plush is key to comfort during sleep. This also plays into spinal alignment, but if you feel like a mattress has too much give or not enough, it can be difficult to find a position that feels naturally comfortable. Below is more information regarding firmness and back pain for sleepers of all shapes and sizes:
- MEDIUM firmness (4-6 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.
- FIRM (7-10 on the mattress scale) provides support but little conforming ability for small- and average-size people. Firm is often best suited for larger people (230 lbs+) as they tend to exert enough pressure on the mattress for it to adequately conform to them; a firm mattress also tends to provide the extra support they need. While this firmness doesn’t have the deep contouring properties of softer mattresses, there is often enough cushioning to prevent problems at pressure points.
- SOFT (1-3 on the mattress scale)tends to provide both adequate support and conforming ability for smaller-sized people (those under 130 lbs). Average- to large-sized people may find that soft lacks adequate support, especially if they are stomach sleepers. However, the flip side of this is that for many people, there is simply too much sink and contouring, and the result can be to much excessive curvature in the spine. The hammocking or sag from soft or older mattresses is the number one cause for back pain related issues linked to mattresses.
Though price is a factor in all mattress buying experiences, you have to be willing to invest in quality. This includes mattress durability, whether it’s able to retain that balance of firmness and softness over time or if it is lost due to wear and tear. Air mattresses are popular amongst those with back pain precisely because they have the highest rated customer satisfaction and longest average lifespan compared to memory foam, spring, latex and hybrid beds.
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.
Available for a sleep trial:
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.
Used in medical settings:
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.