According to the National Institutes of Health, back pain is one of our society's most common medical problems. It's estimated that about 8 in 10 Americans suffer from chronic or occasional back pain. If you're one of them, can the right mattress choice help ease your suffering?
Absolutely, sleep experts say. And while most don't recommend specific brands or models, they do recommend that back-pain sufferers follow a few general tips.
User feedback analyzed on SleepLikeTheDead.com finds that a medium-firm mattress is best for sore backs. According to this website, a medium firmness provides both support and conformity, which appears essential to relieving or preventing back pain; by contrast, a firm mattress won't offer enough conformity, while a soft mattress won't provide enough support.
However, the experts at Spine-Health.com point out that it's important to balance back pain relief with overall comfort. If a mattress is too firm, your back may feel better, but you may suffer from joint or pressure point pain. They agree that a medium firm mattress may be the best choice to find that balance.
Spine-Health.com also suggests that an adjustable bed may provide relief. The website notes that ideally the upper body should be positioned at an incline of 30 to 45 degrees, and the knees should be supported so they slightly bend. "The combination of upper body incline and the knee support can help take some of the stress off the lower back," according to this website.
If you think an adjustable bed might help you find pain relief, especially if you sleep with a partner who doesn't suffer with back pain and wants a different firmness level, the best choice may be an adjustable air mattress like the Sleep Number Bed (Est. $1,000 and up). According to experts at SleepLikeTheDead.com, adjustable air mattresses are far superior at easing all kinds of pain. In particular, Sleep Number beds earn very good ratings for side sleepers, excellent ratings for back sleepers, and overall top ratings for durability. The Sleep Number brand is also one of the top-rated mattress brands overall.
Owners praise the comfort and adjustability of Sleep Number mattresses, and quite a few note that their new mattress has relieved pain and/or improved sleep quality. Many also say that buying a Sleep Number bed has resolved partner quibbles over what type of bed to buy, or the necessity of buying a soft bed and adding a board or padding to one side to increase firmness, or vice versa.
The downside to Sleep Number beds is that they tend to be pricey, and may not be necessary if you're not sharing your bed. Fortunately, many other mattress brands, such as Simmons Beautyrest, Sealy Posturepedic (Est. $600 and up) and Tempur-Pedic (Est. $1,700 and up) make memory foam mattresses in a wide range of firmness levels. This type of mattress ranks second in SleepLikeTheDead.com's survey of the best mattress types to reduce back pain. Latex mattresses, like those made by Ikea, are third. Memory foam and latex mattresses get good reviews for reducing pain because they are more supportive, less likely to sag, and more likely to have good conformity. Sagging, in fact, seems to be most strongly associated with back pain and other complaints. Some mattresses -- particularly innerspring styles with thick padding or pillow tops -- are more prone to sagging, which can increase your pain. According to editors of Spine-Health.com, putting boards under a sagging mattress is a short-term fix at best. Experts agree that it's important to replace your mattress before it gets worn out. All of these companies also make adjustable bases for their mattresses, but they tend to me much pricier than a standard mattress and base, and the firmness level is not adjustable, just the mattress, much like a hospital-type bed.
There are other causes of back pain aside from your mattress, of course, and the National Institutes of Health offers an excellent overview of the causes of back pain as well as guides to treatment and prevention. These tips, along with the right mattress, can help you live a more pain free life.