Little scientific research exists for maintaining a healthy back or on which mattress is best for back pain. The mattress that’s right for you lets you wake up feeling rested and free of soreness or pain. Unless you have a condition that may require a certain type of mattress, you should choose one that is comfortable and provides support for the natural curves of your spine. Because back pain is so common, numerous mattress manufacturers promise to relieve or prevent your back pain, without scientific evidence.
While no one type of mattress is a fix for all, in general, a firmer mattress — one that supports the spine at all points throughout its natural curve — is normally preferred by back sufferers. While it’s important that a mattress provides adequate level support for the spine, personal preference, and comfort level are the key factors to consider when selecting a mattress.
Buying a new mattress is a significant expense for most families, so it’s best to try it out before making a commitment. Does this mean that a mattress-in-a-box should not be considered? Not at all, if such manufacturer offers at least 90+ nights money-back guarantee with a no-hassle return policy. Ninety days is a much more effective inspection period than whatever customers can find out during the time they spend trying out mattresses at a brick-and-mortar local store.
Furthermore, by making simple changes in your sleeping position, you can take strain off your back [source: Mayo Clinic].
- If you sleep on your side, draw your legs up slightly toward your chest and put a pillow between your legs. The American Academy of Family Physicians points to this position as the healthiest for low back pain [see picture above].
- Sleeping on your stomach can be hard on your back. If you can’t sleep any other way, reduce the strain on your back by placing a pillow under your lower abdomen and pelvis, and use also a pillow under your head. If it still does cause strain on your back, try sleeping without a pillow under your head. Anyway, sleeping on your stomach isn’t recommended for back pain sufferers because it doesn’t preserve the curvature of your spine.
- And for back sleepers, placing a small pillow under your knees to help maintain the normal curve of your lower back and support your neck with a pillow, will relieve pressure on your spine.
Medium-firm to firm mattresses may work well for those who end up sleeping on their stomachs or for larger people (those weighing more than 230 pounds) who need more resistance to hold up their weight. But some softness— provided by a pillow top, for example—is often needed to cushion the shoulder and hip bones of side sleepers.
According to a study conducted by The Lancet in 2003, a mattress of medium firmness improves pain and disability among patients with chronic non-specific low-back pain.
Does the comfort layer of the mattress have a cooling effect, or does it hold your body heat and leave you sweaty and uncomfortable? Such questions are becoming increasingly important for new mattress shoppers. The National Institutes of Health advises cooler temperatures for sleep because cooling increases blood flow, and that leads to better oxygenation.
Mattress technology has advanced significantly to address this issue through techniques like body temperature absorbing materials (phase change materials or PCMs), and through the increased use of cooling copper, gels, or other materials in the top layer. Cooling mattress toppers, bought separately, too, do offer the same remedy.
Hybrid mattresses-in-a-box can offer the best of all worlds, combining coils with a top layer of foam or latex (made from either synthetic or natural rubber), or both foam and latex, and normally deliver the medium firmness preferred by back pain sufferers.