Choosing the Best Mattress for Back Pain
We all love a good night’s sleep, but sweet dreams can quickly turn sour when your back pain invites itself to bed with you. Your body goes through so much during the day - whether sitting in an office chair for 8 hours, hunching over a laptop, or picking up after the kids - and poor posture is the biggest cause of back pain.
Sleep is a chance for your body to rest and recover, so having a mattress that doesn’t worsen your back pain or even cause a sore back altogether is essential. But how do you know which one to choose?
If you ask, what is the best mattress for back pain? Keep reading! Let's work it out together!
Can a mattress cause back pain?
Sleeping on an older mattress or the wrong type of mattress for your chosen sleeping position can cause back pain over time - it could even occur after just a few nights! As well as offering comfort, your mattress’s primary job is to support your neck, back, and hips to keep them aligned. If this support isn’t right and your body is allowed to sag, your back muscles become strained, leading to aches and pains.
Of course, while the wrong mattress can cause back pain, it can worsen existing back problems.
What are the types of back pain?
There are different types of back pain, so you must first understand what type of back pain you have before finding the right mattress. It’s worth mentioning that back pain should be taken seriously, so if you experience any of the below types, it’s always best to speak to your doctor.
The three main types of back pain are:
- General back pain - this can be pain in various areas of your back, or perhaps the pain moves around.
- Lower back pain - a lack of support while sitting or sleeping can impact your posture and pressure your coccyx, leading to lower back pain.
- Upper back pain - usually a result of poor posture or muscle overuse.
Which mattress is best for back pain?
Ideally, you want a mattress that perfectly balances support with comfort and contours itself to your body so that your head, shoulders, buttocks, and feet align and you feel no pressure.
There are two main things to consider when looking for a mattress for back pain:
- Mattress type
- Mattress firmness
The best types of mattresses for back pain
Each type of mattress offers benefits, so weighing up your options to find the right one is crucial. To help, here are our pick of the best types of mattresses for back pain, along with our product recommendations:
Open coil/pocket sprung mattresses
The support of a mattress traditionally comes from springs and coils inside it, which are then covered by padding ranging from around 7 to 18 inches deep. The combination is a mattress with a comfortable sleep surface that offers the support your spine needs.
Although open coil and pocket sprung mattresses are common, Arya Nick Shamie, M.D., Associate Professor of Orthopedic Surgery and Neurosurgery at Santa Monica UCLA Medical Center, warns against choosing a cheap innerspring mattress. You may wake up with an aching back if there aren’t enough springs and cushioning to properly support your body.
If you opt for this type of mattress, choose one with 1,000 springs or above to ensure you get enough support.
Our Recommendation: Signature Crystal 3000 Pocket Sprung Mattress
- High spring count absorbs movement efficiently
- Medium/firm level offers plenty of orthopaedic support for back pain
- Air vents offer enhanced breathability to improve mattress life
- Cotton fabric is moisture-absorbent and regulates temperature
- Handcrafted in the UK from high-quality materials
Memory foam and latex mattresses don’t have any springs at all. These mattresses, particularly if they are high-density, immediately mould to your body shape and can provide excellent levels of comfort while reducing pressure on the body and relieving back pain.
Although all foam mattresses provide that sink-in feeling, it’s essential to choose the right firmness foam mattress to ensure it’s not too soft, which would compromise the support it offers. Latex is slightly firmer than memory foam.
Our Recommendation: Ocean Gel Memory and Reflex Foam Cool Ortho LayGel Mattress
- Medium/firm rating suits a range of sleeping positions
- Includes 20mm of LayGel-infused memory foam that offers a cool sleep
- 20mm of LayTech foam gives you plenty of support
- Ideal for those with allergies or asthma sufferers
- Delivered vacuum packed and rolled for easy movement
Hybrid mattresses combine innerspring and foam mattresses; they usually contain pocket springs that are then covered by a foam layer. Combining the comfort and supportive properties of these two mattress types, a hybrid mattress is an excellent choice if you have back pain, offering lumbar support to reduce muscle tension and promote healthier sleeping positions.
Our Recommendation: Cashmere 3000 Pocket Sprung Memory Foam Mattress
- A medium firmness rating suits most sleeping positions
- Includes a 25mm layer of memory foam and a 25mm layer of reflex foam
- Individually nested pocket springs offer customised comfort for back pain
- Air vents help improve the breathability to increase the mattress's life
- Filled and lined with cashmere for a comfortable sleep
Orthopaedic mattresses are usually firm to provide more support, allowing your body weight to be evenly distributed on the bed. This is ideal if you have back pain, as it doesn’t let your middle section sink. These are designed to provide serious comfort while supporting your back and joints. If you share a bed with a partner, you’ll be pleased to know that the support offered by an orthopaedic mattress can help prevent roll-together during the night.
Our Recommendation: Super Ortho Spring Reflex Foam Orthopaedic Mattress
- Firm rating offers plenty of support for back pain
- A layer of reflex foam offers extra support and comfort
- Damask fabric and quilted panels provide extra cosiness
- Traditional open coil springs maintain support across the mattress
- Hand-made from high-quality materials
While you can use these as a guide, choosing the right mattress will always come down to personal preference.
Mattress firmness for back pain
The firmness of your mattress is an indicator of the level of support it will offer for your back, so it’s essential to make the right choice. That said, it can be hard to know whether a firm mattress or a soft mattress is better for back pain. Let’s see what the science says!
Is a firm mattress better for back pain?
Jeffrey N. Katz, M.D., Professor of Medicine and Orthopedic Surgery at Harvard Medical School, has spoken of a study done on 313 patients who suffered from lower back pain when sleeping or lower back pain in bed in general. The findings were that those sleeping on medium to firm mattresses reported less pain when lying in bed than those on firm mattresses.
The firmness you need stems from your spine and its natural curvature; it requires a mattress hard enough to support it in the right places but soft enough that it doesn’t cause discomfort in other areas.
Arya Nick Shamie has said: “If the mattress is too firm, it will push on those main pressure points and take you out of alignment. Those pressure points won't be properly supported if it's too soft, so your whole body flops back."
It’s also important to consider your sleeping position. If you sleep on your back or stomach, a firmer mattress is usually more comfortable, whereas sleeping on your side means resting on a smaller surface area, placing more pressure on your hips. Therefore, a softer mattress may be preferable.
Every human body is different, so a mattress that suits your partner or a friend might not suit you. That’s why getting the right mattress firmness for your needs is important.
Can my bed cause back pain or make it worse?
Besides your mattress causing back pain, a common question is, "Can a bed frame cause back pain?" and the answer is yes! If you have a sprung slatted base on your bed, your mattress can feel softer due to the additional spring. Depending on your needs, this can ultimately cause you further back pain!
Likewise, a solid bed base can make your mattress feel firmer than you would like, for example, if you’re a side sleeper. Always make sure your chosen bed frame matches the support you need from your mattress.
Can your sleeping position cause back pain?
Different sleeping positions can lead to different types of back pain. The table below explains the common types of back pain depending on how you sleep:
|How it causes back pain
|How to prevent It
|Your lower back and hips are under increased pressure as your top leg slopes downwards.
|Place a pillow between your knees to restore spinal alignment.
|Your torso sinks into the mattress, which pulls your spine out of its natural alignment, causing the back to curve. Your head will also be turned, which adds pressure to your neck and upper back.
|Place a pillow under your hips and stomach to prevent your spine from curving. Only use a pillow if it doesn’t cause your neck to strain.
|Despite being the best position for minimising back pain, sleeping on your back can cause issues if your spine’s natural curvature isn’t adequately supported.
|Ensuring you have the right mattress to offer the support your spine needs.
How to prevent back pain
Aside from buying a new mattress, there are a few ways you can help alleviate back pain:
- Sleep on your right-hand side with bent knees - it’s good for blood flow.
- Ensure you have a comfortable pillow to fill the gap between your neck and shoulder. You can get pillows designed to suit your primary sleeping position.
- Do some gentle stretching before bed and when you get up.
- Work on strengthening your core. Doing yoga, Pilates, or hitting the gym can help, as a strong core can help reduce or prevent back pain.
- Preserve your mattress! You should rotate and flip it regularly.
Why does my back hurt with a new mattress?
If you have recently changed your mattress, you may still be experiencing some back pain. With any new mattress, there is always a ‘settling in’ period, where you get used to the support offered and ‘break in’ your mattress. For example, memory foam mattresses will soften slightly over time, making them feel less firm.
This isn’t uncommon, so don’t worry if you initially experience temporary discomfort. This is most noticeable if you change from an older, less supportive mattress. Your spine is being realigned by the new mattress, which can feel strange to begin with.
However, if the discomfort lasts longer, you may need to assess other parts of your sleeping set-up. For example, you're not using your pillows correctly to support you and the position in which you sleep. Read how to make your pillows work for you in our guide to how many pillows you should sleep with.
What might be a little niggle in your back now could turn into something more painful down the line, so if you’re suffering, or your mattress is sagging in the middle (or you haven’t replaced it in too long), take a look at the huge range of mattresses we have available.