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Best Mattress for Back Pain

By: Kelly Burgess on July 24, 2017

Sleep Number beds or medium-firm mattresses may help ease pain

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 also agree that a medium-firm mattress may be the best choice to find that balance. The vast majority of the mattresses we evaluate in this report have a medium-firm choice available. In addition, the Casper (Est. $550 and up), our Best Reviewed foam mattress is described by experts across the board as medium-firm. 

There are plenty of people who suffer from more than one issue with their back (such as disk issues on some occasions, muscle spasms other times). They might benefit from an adjustable air mattress like the Sleep Number Bed (Est. $1,000 and up). These beds are also a great choice if you sleep with a partner who doesn't suffer with back pain and wants a different firmness level.

According to experts at SleepLiketheDead.com, adjustable air mattresses are far superior at easing all kinds of pain. In particular, at ConsumerReports.org, Sleep Number beds earn Very Good to Excellent ratings for all types of sleepers; and Excellent 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. In that case, you might want to look to memory foam, which ranks second in SleepLiketheDead.com's survey of the best mattress types to reduce back pain. Latex mattresses are third (we cover both in their own sections of this report). In addition, foam mattresses, which we also cover, come in medium firm options (such as the Casper).

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..

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. "An adjustable bed has the potential to help anyone who feels better in an inclined position, such as when sitting in a recliner, rather than when lying on a flat mattress," according to this website. Most major manufactures, including Sealy, Simmons, Tempur-Pedic and Sleep Number make adjustable foundations to fit their mattresses.

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.

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