Best mattress for lower back pain


If you have a bad back, you should buy the firmest mattress you can find - right? Not so fast. While that used to be the common wisdom, there's no solid research behind it. The latest thinking is that there isn't one type of mattress that's best for everyone, including people with chronic back pain. Let personal preference guide you, and choose what feels most comfortable.

Making the right choice can be tricky because there are so many products on the market. Just because a mattress feels good when you lie down on it in a showroom doesn't mean you're going to be happy sleeping on it for the next several years.

Here are a few tips to guide you:

It needs to keep your spine aligned

You may not realize it, but good posture is important when you sleep. The muscles and ligaments that hold your back need to relax and recover while you snooze. If a mattress is too firm - or too squishy - it won't support your spine at your neck or lower back the way it needs to. What's firm enough (but not too firm) is different for everyone: if you have wide hips, for instance, a slightly softer surface may be better - you may need some more give in order to keep your spine aligned. Someone with narrower hips might be better off with a firmer surface.

When in doubt, go 'Medium-Firm'

Research is limited, but in one study, researchers assigned new mattresses to more than 300 people with lower back pain. They used either "medium-firm" or "firm" mattresses for 90 days. Those in the medium group reported the least amount of discomfort.

You might consider getting a memory foam mattress (instead of a traditional innerspring one). The foam moulds to your body. The downside: some memory foam mattresses keep in heat; and the material might have more chemicals.

Pillows and positions matter

Even if you have the right mattress, it's not the only thing that counts when it comes to managing your back pain as you rest. Sleep position is important, as are the kind of pillows you use and where you place them.

Sleeping can be hard when your back aches. You toss and turn, and it hurts. Try to sleep with your back in a neutral position - not arched, but not flat either. This takes pressure off your spine. These two positions can help:


  • When sleeping on your side, place a pillow between your knees. Try to keep your top leg from falling over your bottom leg. You also can put a small, rolled-up towel under your waist.
  • When sleeping on your back, place a pillow under your knees. You also can put a small, rolled-up towel under the curve of your back.

ByHealthwise - H. Blahd, Jr., MD, FACEP - Emergency Medicine
Robert B. Keller, MD - Orthopaedics

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