It’s been estimated that at any given moment there are 31 million Americans suffering from back pain. About half of working adults in the United States say that they have had some kind of back pain during the year, and pain in the back is one of the most common reasons that people miss work, and the second most common reason for people to go to see their doctor – the only malady more common is the common cold. If you are among those who suffer from back pain, then finding a mattress that suits your particular sleeping style and any injuries or problems you may have simply makes sense, but most people don’t know what they should be looking for to help with their specific issue.
There are a number of different characteristics that mattresses have that can make a very big difference in whether they provide you with what you need. The factors that you should be educated about and looking for are conformity, firmness, and support. It is also important when considering different mattresses that you keep your sleep position in mind.
We all know what it means to conform in society – it means that you blend in, that you adopt the norms of those around you (and nonconformists do the opposite!). The same is true of mattresses. A mattress that conforms responds to your weight and shape when you lay down on it. If a mattress has high conformity then when you lay down to rest it will form itself around your body and provide you with support everywhere. A mattress with low conformity will remain in its original form and will not shift shape.
A mattress that has low conformity will create pressure point pain. Think about what it feels like to lay down on a plank of wood or on concrete, and how you can feel the points where your body sticks out and is not getting any kind of cushioning. High conformity mattresses reduce pain from pressure points and let your body receive support in its natural alignment. This can relieve back pain because it supports every area of your body, but if a mattress conforms too much then it won’t give you enough support.
When you are discussing a mattress’ firmness you’re talking about what it feels like – whether it feels soft or hard. Though mattress companies use labels like plush or extra firm, there is no measurement to a mattress’ firmness unless you are purchasing a latex mattress, whose manufacturer may provide you with information on how much force is required to compress it to a quarter of its material’s original height. Most research indicates that those who suffer from back pain are better off on beds that provide a medium-firm to firm feeling, but there are studies that contradict these findings. The best thing for you to do when selecting for firmness is to let your own body be your guide, and choose the bed that provides you with the most relief from your back pain.
Support has to do with whether the bed can keep you in an ergonomically correct position. If your heavier parts, such as your hips and legs, sink down to an uncomfortable level rather than staying at a natural angle, it’s an indication that a bed does not provide you with the support you need. A bed with good support will distribute your weight evenly, and that support should be present for the life of the bed. If a bed begins to sag under your weight then it’s time to purchase a new mattress.
Most people don’t realize how important it is to choose a mattress that is appropriate for the position in which they sleep, and this is particularly true for those with back pain. The three factors listed above rank differently in importance based on whether you are a side sleeper, a back sleeper or a stomach sleeper.
Though most people prefer to sleep on their sides, the position is the worst for the pressure points in your hips and shoulders. To offset this, side sleepers should look for beds with high conformity and that will provide support for hips and shoulders instead of pushing against them. A high conforming bed will also mold itself to your waist and other curves so that you are kept in alignment. Side sleepers who experience back pain are advised to keep a pillow between their knees in order to keep their hips in alignment. The best beds for side sleepers are memory foam, Talalay latex, pocket coil and air beds.
Physicians and sleep experts agree that the best position for those who have back pain is to sleep on their backs, but only if the mattress has a moderate level of conformity that will provide support for their lower backs so that they can fully relax without pain. A back sleeper’s mattress must mold to their curves so that there are no pressure points, yet can’t be too soft or conforming or else the body will end up out alignment and pain may worsen. Medium-firm to firm mattresses are probably best for back sleepers. A good way to determine whether a mattress is providing enough support is to lie on your back and try to stick your fingers between your lower back and the mattress. If you can fit more than two in the space that’s left behind then it is not providing you with enough support. Back sleepers are advised to stick a pillow under their knees to improve comfort. The best beds for back sleepers are Talalay or Dunlop Latex, memory foam, air bed and pocket coil.
This position is the worst for those with back pain, as it puts tremendous pressure on both the lower back and neck. Firm support is essential so that your stomach doesn’t sink any further down, , and the same is true of contouring – keep it to a moderate level so that there isn’t too much sinking. Putting a pillow under your pelvis is recommended to try to avoid having your back sway too much, and pillows should be kept low profile so that your head and neck aren’t raised too far out of alignment with your spine. The best bed for stomach sleepers with back pain are a Talalay or Dunlop Latex, air bed, pocket coil or memory foam.