Learn how to find the best mattress for a bad back.
Are you trying to find a good mattress for back pain? One of the hardest medical conditions to cure and treat are those relating to chronic back pain, and it’s something that affects millions of people around the world every day.
Over and over, you find people searching the ends of the world for the best mattress for a bad back just to get a little relief. Mainly because, along with debated chiropractic treatments, having a comfortable place to get great sleep seems to aid the most when it comes to reducing chronic back pain—and even preventing it altogether.
While identifying the single best or most perfect mattress remains a hotly contested topic, opinion polls and sleep professionals have indicated that specific types are better than others when it comes to pain management and support.
So let’s dive into the facts. Here, we’ll take a look at:
- How your mattress choice can ease your discomfort—or make it much worse.
- The best mattress for back pain, including a comparison of the top brands.
- What everyone with chronic back problems should know about memory foam.
- How to find relief even if you aren’t in the market for a new mattress right now.
Top Beds Comparison Table
|Mattress Model||Type||Price (Queen)||Rating|
|Memory Foam (Plant-based viscoelastic memory foam)||$1,199||4.7/5|
|Simmons Beautyrest Legend Preston 17″ Luxury Firm Pillow Top||Hybrid (Pillowtop, memory foam, micro coils and latex)||$3,049||?/5|
|Sealy Optimum 12″ Elite Courage Plush||Memory Foam (Gel memory foam)||$1,949.99||4.4/5|
It might not come as much surprise that sleeping on a lumpy or unsupportive surface can lead to a world of hurt. Sinking too deeply into a mattress can throw your joints out of alignment, causing them to twist and become uncomfortable as the night goes on.
But sleeping on a too-firm surface can also interfere with the spinal cord reaching its proper pressure. Years ago, doctors often recommended that people with back pain sleep on a very firm mattress. But no longer. Recent surveys suggest that people who sleep on very hard mattresses (sometimes called orthopedic mattresses) have the poorest sleep quality.
The types that tend to rate best on pain relief tend to be either memory foam or latex of good quality, with spring beds performing less well in reviews. Beds that are very thin and inexpensive also tend to have poor long-term satisfaction when it comes to comfort.
High-quality foam mattresses conform closest to the sleeper’s body shape. Conformity means the material allows the wider parts of their body, like the hips and shoulders, to sink in while the lighter areas of the body, such as the waist and neck just lay atop.
Sleeping with a straight, natural alignment relieves the pressures commonly associated with many back pains. This allows the spinal cord to adjust correctly and align itself straight. A sleep surface with poor conformity or support forces the body to rest at an unnatural angle, and prevents tense muscles from fully relaxing.
Now the ideal bed will be based on each person’s situation and preferences. Some people have a preference for the feel of memory foam, while others prefer the feel of latex. Things like materials, layer thickness and firmness will all depend to some degree on your body weight, sleep style, and other factors. But, there are a few basic guidelines that can help inform your search.
What does chronic back pain have to do with mattresses?
It has been reported that the majority of back pain is caused by either an injury, occupational strain, the daily stresses of sleeping on a hard or uneven surface, or a combination of the above. It’s is a big problem, being the top cause of disability in people under 45 years old. Of course, younger people can be at risk, too. And taking care of your back in your 20s and 30s can go a long way towards staving off issues later on.
While a lot prevention efforts focus on daytime habits, it’s equally important to pay attention to reducing back pain in bed. While a person sleeps many things go on in their bodies that are related to their backs. For instance, while sleeping, pressure is gradually released from the vertebrae. This is because the person is lying; not standing. Therefore the upper portion of the body is not applying pressure to the spinal cord.
Under these conditions, when a person initially awakes, they can be up to one inch taller compared to their height at the end of the night. As they progress through the day, pressure returns with gravity and with it, things like poor posture, which compress the spine throughout the day.
Back pain & sleep: A look at the facts
Just how much of an impact can this problem have on sleep? The facts might surprise you.
- Low back discomfort is the single leading cause of disability worldwide. It’s one of the most common reasons for missed work. And up to 80% of us will experience it at some point in our lives, says the American Chiropractic Association.
- Pain is a key factor that keeps many Americans from getting the quality sleep they need. In fact, sleep disturbance is a top complaint among patients dealing with a chronic back or joint problem.
- Those with a problem get around 42 fewer minutes of sleep per night, according to the National Sleep Foundation.
- People with pain feel like they have less control over their sleep, and are more likely to worry about whether they’re snoozing enough.
The good news is, you do have control over your sleep quality. If back discomfort is a chronic issue, investing in the right mattress is one step that can significantly improve the quality of your sleep—as well as your wellbeing while you’re awake.
Your spine and the muscle supporting it rest while you sleep at night. As you settle into a horizontal sleep position, proper alignment and support is essential to reducing and avoiding soreness over the several hours you’re in bed.
There is also a pain and sleep paradox of sorts. Pain can certainly make it harder to get comfortable and enjoy a great night’s sleep, while at the same time, getting poor sleep can increase the severity and perception of pain. Choosing a comfortable bed thus yields several important benefits: easing current soreness and pains, reducing pain severity, facilitating better rest, and preventing new aches.
What makes memory foam best for a bad back?
Traditional spring mattresses are flat and plank-like. The stiff springs cause the sleeper to lay uneven, whether they are side or back sleepers. Plank-like surfaces, when it comes to a back sleeper, force the person’s spine to arch and the inner knee to be unsupported. This prevents the lower back from decompressing and causes a hosts of strains and pains.
Why is this? Let’s take a mental picture and envision this sleeping situation. The buttocks and the upper shoulders are the parts of the body that protrude the most; the heel of the foot does as well. While lying on the back, the buttocks touch the mattress, the shoulders do, and the heels dig in, all making contact with the springs. However the lumbar region is arched, firmer beds there might be noticeable space between the lower back and the bed, inner knees barely has a supported surface and the head falls backward.
Medium-firm memory foam or latex tends to perform well because they allow the parts of the body that need to sink in to do so, and while still giving support in the places that require it.
This type of body position causes strain and tension on the muscles. It also discombobulates the alignment of the spinal cord. That doesn’t sound all that comfortable, does it?
Medium-firm memory foam or latex are better choices. These sleep surfaces tend to perform well because they don’t force the spine to curve and contort into unnatural positions while you sleep. Instead, they allow the parts of the body that need to sink to do so, while still giving support in the places that require it. Hips and shoulders are cushioned, while the lower back is fully supported and able to relax.
Some have concerns about memory foam being safe, and those are legitimate. Indeed, some memory foam mattresses are manufactured with materials that contain potentially harmful chemicals. But other types of memory foam mattresses are made with safe, natural plant-based materials.
In short, it really depends on what brand you choose. If you have a particular bed in mind that you’re thinking about buying, read memory foam mattress reviews and find out what the foam is made of. Here’s a hint: If a manufacturer uses safe, nontoxic materials, they’re usually pretty happy to talk about it, and it’s easy to find the information on their website.
Will memory foam make me too hot?
Memory foam is one of the few sleep surfaces that can fully conform to your body’s natural curves, to provide support exactly where you need it. But does that benefit come with a downside?
You might have heard that memory foam mattresses can trap heat and leave you too warm during the night. So even though your back doesn’t hurt, you’re still uncomfortable overall. Which kind of defeats the purpose, doesn’t it?
It’s true that some memory foam mattresses made from synthetic materials like polyurethane can trap heat. But that’s not the case for all memory foam mattresses. Those made with natural, plant-based materials like soybeans tend to sleep cooler and more comfortable.
|Amerisleep Memory Foam||Other Memory Foams|
|Utilizes Bio-Pur, an advanced, open-cell construction for 5x more breathability.||Made from heat-trapping polyurethane foam, which offers no breathability.|
|Featured an aerated design that enhances circulation instead of trapping heat, so you won’t wake up sweaty.||No aerated design means that air doesn’t circulate.|
|Uses Surface Modification Technology (SMT) clinically shown to reduce pressure points up to 49%|| Nope, they don’t have this.|
Why memory foam mattresses are a great option
Based on everything we’ve looked at, medium-firm memory foam mattresses are perfect for those suffering back pain. Memory Foam contours the entire body without any gaps unlike innerspring mattresses. Most often, medium-firm mattresses let the spine to rest in a natural position.
Our research indicates that Amerisleep’s AS2 is a good choice for medium-firm memory foam. Amerisleep uses high-quality materials, so your support won’t break down over the years ensuring pain-free sleep for many years.
There’s more. The memory foam used in the AS2 and other Amerisleep mattresses recovers its shape faster. With typical memory foam mattresses, you might wind up “stuck” when you switch positions while you wait for your memory foam to adapt—which can take up to 60 seconds. The AS2 bounces back in just four seconds. So your mattress keeps up with you while you move at night. That makes it one of the best mattresses on the market.
And when it comes to reducing back pain, the AS2 also has Amerisleep’s Surface Modification Technology. SMT is clinically shown to reduce pressure points up to 49%. It works by grouping hundreds of six-sided foam supports into five comfort zones to provide targeted pressure relief.
For places where you need additional cushion, like the shoulders, the HIVE™ layer has more space between the foam hexagons. That way those zones will compress more. And for zones where you need more support, like your head and feet, the HIVE layer has less space between the hexagons to provide more reinforcement.
Beyond quality materials, Amerisleep also uses the latest performance technology like Celliant®, an advanced fabric, to further improve your back pain. How? Celliant® is designated by the FDA3 to temporarily promote increased local bloodflow at the site of application in healthy individuals. It does that by safely converting body heat to infrared energy. As a result, the energy penetrates into the muscle and tissue to promote a temporary increase in local blood flow. This can help increase comfort and promote restful sleep.
Is the Best Mattress for Back Pain Soft, Medium, or Firm?
Maybe it’s neither or a combination of two? It has long been believed that a firm bed was the best choice for people who suffer from a bad back. This has been a long debate between orthopedic doctors and chiropractors. Orthopedic doctors recommend firm mattresses, while chiropractors recommend medium-firm mattresses. In fact, around 75% of orthopedic surgeons recommend firm or hard mattresses to their patients, one survey found.
However, recent research has shown that a hard mattress might not be the best choice. The majority of chiropractors were probably right in recommending that their patients sleep on medium-firm mattresses.
In a general sense, medium-firm mattresses are the most recommended, especially for back sleepers.
In two separate studies, Oklahoma State University researchers found that a medium-firm mattress was the most effective at reducing clinically diagnosed back pain, shoulder pain, and spine stiffness. Subjects who slept on medium-firm mattresses also experienced better sleep quality overall and fewer sleep disturbances throughout the night. Another study, conducted in Spain in 2003 on 313 adults, revealed that the sleepers generally reported less pain on a medium-firm bed versus a firm bed.
The evidence has led experts to conclude that medium-firm mattresses are better than firm mattresses for easing chronic low back discomfort and disability.
That’s why medium-firm mattresses are the most recommended, especially for back sleepers. People with preexisting conditions sometimes require a moderately firm sleeping surface in order to heal properly from strains, and other injuries. Side sleepers might prefer options more in medium ranges to better cushion hips and shoulder.
Still not convinced that a medium-firm mattress is a better choice than one that’s rock-hard? Here’s an easy way to see how it might feel to sleep on a very firm mattress: Just try placing a plywood board under your mattress, or put your mattress on the floor for the night, Harvard health experts suggest. Both experiments will make your bed less cushy, giving you a good approximation of what a very firm mattress might feel like.
In the end, it comes down to what works best for your body and the way that you sleep. If your back is an issue, medium-firm mattresses are often a good starting point. But you may need to try a few different options to find the best mattress for you. That’s why it’s a good idea to buy from a mattress brand that lets you try the mattress risk-free at home.
Can a Mattress Topper Help?
Of course, buying a new mattress is a big investment. But if you’re not in the market to make a major purchase right now, are there still ways to modify your sleep surface to make it more comfortable?
A mattress topper might be the answer you’re looking for.
Many chiropractors believe that if the sleeper does not own a memory foam bed or if their current bed is too firm the best thing to do is to lay a 1 ½- 2 ½ inch thick memory foam padding on the sleep surface.
A mattress topper can make your sleep surface more comfortable. But it won’t be as effective as a new memory foam mattress.
Even high-quality toppers are considerably less expensive than a new mattress. And with proper care, they can last for years. So you can get more use out of the mattress you already have—while boosting your comfort level in bed and keeping your back discomfort at bay.
Of course, it’s not a foolproof solution. While a mattress pad aides comfort and can help with support to some degree, it does not give the sleeper the deep advantages a memory foam or latex mattress does. All foam beds offer more pressureless support, mold/dust mite resistance, and longevity. The breathability and comfort advantages of memory foam make it an overall good choice for pain, and it’s most likely to be comfortable to the largest percent of the population.
A whole mattress is tall enough to allow the sleeper’s body to sink in the proper distances in the right spots. A 1 ½ -2 ½ inch topper can only do so much.
Quality memory foam or latex foams are hypoallergenic, meaning they are less likely to cause allergic reactions in people. Also, all natural models of latex and low-VOC memory foams can drastically reduce chemical exposure, which is important for those with sensitivities.
In short, a mattress topper can make your sleep surface more comfortable. But it won’t be as effective as a new memory foam mattress.
One thing to keep in mind: If you choose to use a mattress topper, make sure your current mattress topper isn’t so old that it’s sagging. If your mattress bows inward, the topper will likely do the same, and not be able to provide you with the right support. So your pain probably won’t go away.
Why Memory Foam Toppers Are a Great Option
By now, you’ve learned a bit about why memory foam mattress are the best sleep surfaces for back problems. So it might not come as much surprise to learn that memory foam toppers can also be an effective way to ease your discomfort.
Like memory foam mattresses, memory foam toppers conform to your spine’s natural curves. That helps your vertebrae stay properly aligned to reduce muscle tension and joint twisting while you sleep. If you’re sleeping on a traditional spring mattress, a memory foam surface that 1 1/2 to 2 inches thick will go a long way towards making an old, creaky bed more comfortably.
So, the big question: what bed will yield your best chances of pain-free days and nights?
Medium-firm memory foam mattresses assist vertebrae alignment, reduce muscle tension and aid the body’s natural processes. Visco foam beds rate well with more than 4 in 5 owners, are easy to find both online and in stores, and prove durable. These factors, along with affordability, makes memory foam the best mattress for a bad back or to aid in soothing or prevention of pain.
It’s decision time!
Now that you have the facts about the type of mattress will help your back stay comfortable, it’s time to make your pick. Of course, you should factor in your own preferences as well as your budget by doing research on the best mattress for your lifestyle. But our top pick is Amerisleep’s AS2 (formerly Revere). It’s made of high-quality medium-firm memory foam that conforms to your spine’s natural curves to keep it properly aligned. So you’ll sleep more soundly now—and for years to come.
2Milne, C. T. APRN, MSN, BC, CWOCN; et. al. Evaluation of a Variable Pressure Foaming (VPF) Mattress with Surface Modification Technology (SMT) for Prevention and Treatment of Pressure Ulcers in General Medical-Surgical Patients. 43th Annual Conference of the Wound, Ostomy and Continence, June, 2011
3 The FDA has determined that Celliant® products are medical devices as defined in section 201(h) of the Federal Food, Drug and Cosmetic Act and are general wellness products. Celliant® is determined by the FDA to temporarily promote increased local blood flow at the site of application in healthy individuals. Hologenix, LLC, the maker of Celliant®, states that Celliant® safely converts body heat to infrared energy. This energy penetrates into the muscle and tissue to promote a temporary increase in local blood flow and helps increase comfort and promotes restful sleep.