This article was contributed by Dr. Brent Wells, D.C.
If you struggle with back pain, finding a comfortable, supportive mattress can be very challenging. In fact, a mattress that doesn’t provide enough support can actually be a big cause of chronic back pain. Investing in a top quality mattress can do wonders for improving your back pain if it is something you struggle with on a consistent basis. Here’s what you need to know about managing back pain, and how to find the perfect mattress to deal with it.
Table of Contents
Causes of Back Pain
No two cases of chronic back pain are the same, and understanding what is causing your case of chronic back pain can make it much easier to deal with.
One of the most common causes of back pain is an unsupportive mattress. When your mattress starts to sag, it can pull your spine down with it, which results in sleeping with your spine out of place. Alternatively, if your mattress is too hard, it can be just as problematic. The spine does have gentle curves, and an ultra-firm mattress may not accommodate them, resulting in eventual chronic pain.
There are many other things that can cause pain, both in conjunction with a poor quality mattress or separate from it. For example, many people develop back pain over time due to poor posture. When you slouch, you pull your muscles and skeletal system out of alignment, which puts excess strain on your body. This often results in pain not only in your back, but also in your neck, head, and legs.
Lack of Exercise
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Many people also develop back pain from living a sedentary lifestyle. If you spend a lot of time sitting or laying down, you are going to be much more likely to develop chronic pain than someone who has a more active lifestyle. If you have to sit for most of the day at work, it’s important to take steps to combat that by scheduling in regular walks and exercise sessions.
There are certain lifestyle choices that can also result in chronic back pain. For example, people who often do heavy lifting, either for work or for extracurricular activities, often end up with chronic pain in their lower back. On a smaller scale, you could also develop chronic back pain if you regularly carry a heavy bag, particularly if you always carry it on the same shoulder. Carrying a heavy bag on one side can pull your body out of alignment. Even wearing unsupportive shoes can cause back pain, particularly if you are on your feet throughout the day. Adding supportive insoles to your shoes can go a long way towards preventing back pain.
Finally, back pain can be caused by a variety of pre-existing conditions, like herniated discs, sciatica, and traumatic injuries. While these problems are difficult to correct
If you struggle with chronic back pain, there are certain steps you can take to manage it in addition to getting a new mattress. Strengthening the muscles in the back and abdominals can make a big difference, because it gives you much more control over your body and your posture. Activities like Pilates and yoga are a great way to do this. Working with a physical therapist can also help with chronic back pain. Your physical therapist can help you determine where the pain is coming from so you can target it. Additionally, you might benefit from additional physical treatments, like chiropractic adjustments, acupuncture, massage, and more.
What To Look For In A Mattress If You Have Back Pain
With so many different types of mattresses on the market, it can be difficult to figure out which one is actually going to be the best for preventing chronic back pain. It seems like every brand claims to be the most supportive and most innovative, so the best way to whittle down your options is by comparing the actual features the mattresses offer.
Here’s what to look for when doing your shopping.
1. Mattress Types
The first thing to look at when shopping for your mattress is what it’s made from.
There are three main types of support mechanisms used in mattresses:
- memory foam: generally the best for back pain,
- latex: generally 2nd best for back pain, and
- innerspring: generally the worst for back pain.
In general, memory foam mattresses are considered to be the best for people with back pain. This is because memory foam mattresses naturally adjust to the curves of your body as you sleep. Not only is this extremely comfortable, but it also gets rid of pressure points on your body that can cause back pain.
If you can’t get a memory foam mattress, a latex mattress will also work well to relieve back pain. Latex mattresses are on the firmer side and are also quite supportive, which is actually ideal for people with back pain. Both memory foam and latex mattresses also isolate motion, which is very helpful for people who sleep with a partner. This means that when your partner tosses and turns at night, it won’t affect the way you sleep.
Innerspring mattresses are typically less effective at relieving back pain, so it’s best to avoid them if this is something you struggle with. They do not adjust to the contours of your body, so they can create pressure points while you sleep. On top of that, they are very bouncy and can wear out much faster than memory foam or latex mattresses. When they wear out, they can start to sag, which is very bad for people with lower back problems.
2. Mattress Firmness
The firmness of the mattress is another important feature to look at when choosing the best mattress for back pain.
In general, you will want a medium firm mattress. Softer mattresses can allow your spine to get stuck in unhealthy curves during the night, which can lead to pain and muscle imbalances in the morning. Softer mattresses could also result in you getting stuck in a ‘rut’ during the night, so if you end up in a bad position, it will be more difficult to get out of.
Many memory foam mattresses have ‘zones’ throughout the bed of different firmnesses, which provides a good balance of support and comfort. For example, the mattress will be softer under your head and shoulders for increased comfort, but firmer under your back and hips to prevent unnatural curvature.
Some of the best mattresses on the market today also have several different layers composed of different materials. This essentially allows users to get the best of both worlds. Latex layers provide firm support, while memory foam layers contour to your body. There may also be a gel layer on top of the supportive layers to prevent heat from building up during the night.
In general, thicker mattresses are usually more effective for preventing back pain because they provide so much more support.
There are other features that you may want to consider as well when shopping for a mattress, regardless of whether or not you have back pain. We’ve already mentioned gel layers, which are very helpful if you tend to get night sweats. In addition to gel cushioning, you should also look for ventilation in the mattress, with channels that allow air to flow through.
Many people also want their mattress to be eco-friendly, and many mattress companies are now creating products specifically to accommodate this demand. Memory foam did not used to be particularly good for the planet, and would sometimes release chemicals and odor for a short period of time as you used the mattress. However, mattress companies have now adjusted their production methods to make memory foam safer and more natural – look for the Certi-PUR label. Latex is also completely natural, which is a big draw for many people.
Pillow for Back Pain
Finally, you may also want to consider what type of pillow you get if you have back pain. If your head is not in proper alignment while you sleep, it could result in pain through your shoulders and upper back, which could eventually radiate to the lower part of your body. The ideal pillow should be soft yet supportive, allowing your neck to maintain a slight curve without lifting it too far out of alignment. Memory foam pillows can sometimes be helpful for back pain, but they can also be too firm at times, so look for an option that strikes the right balance.
Since everyone’s back pain is different, it can make a big difference to test the mattress out ahead of time to see how it feels. Go into a mattress store and just spend some time laying on different beds to determine what you like and don’t like. If you plan on ordering a mattress online, see if you have any friends or family members who own the one you are interested in and ask to test it out.
Back pain can be incredibly frustrating, but switching up your mattress can make a huge difference in how you feel. Not only will a better mattress help you have a more rejuvenating night’s sleep, but you will also wake up with your spine in good alignment. A reduction in your chronic pain will help you be more productive and comfortable during the day as well.
About Dr. Brent Wells
Dr. Brent Wells is the founder of Better Health Chiropractic & Physical Rehab and is widely considered the best chiropractor in Anchorage, Alaska. He is originally from California, and completed his studies in Nevada and Oregon before moving to Alaska to start Better Health Chiropractic & Physical Rehab. He is passionate about volunteering and exercise, and enjoys reading in his free time.