Anyone who’s gone through the slog of looking for a supportive mattress that minimizes their back pain knows that it can be a Goldilocks-esque process: You don’t want your new mattress to be too soft or too firm—it needs to be just right. And that’s only after you’ve made sure that everything else about your sleep setup isn’t going to exacerbate your discomfort.
What can cause back pain while you sleep?
If you deal with chronic back pain, you should make sure your pillow isn’t too tall or too low for you, and that your preferred sleep position encourages spinal alignment, George Cyril, MD, a physiatrist at the Hospital for Special Surgery in New York City, tells SELF. Using a pillow that’s too tall can crank your neck forward, while sleeping on your stomach can cause your neck to stay twisted to one side all night, he explains. If your spine, shoulders, and neck aren’t in a neutral position while you sleep, you’re more likely to wake up with soreness and that dreaded “kink” in your neck. (Check out our guide to the best pillows to find one that works with your sleep style).
Those contributing factors aside, the type of mattress you sleep on will make a big difference in your back problems and, as a result, your sleep quality as a whole.
How to shop for a mattress that’ll alleviate back pain
First, consider the mattress’s firmness level, Steve Zhou, MD, an orthopedic surgeon at Hartford Hospital’s Bone & Joint Institute in Hartford, Connecticut, tells SELF. He explains that it should provide enough support that you don’t sink into the bed, but it shouldn’t be so hard that you develop uncomfortable pressure points: “The right mattress should make you feel like you are floating on air.” Very generally speaking, this usually means a medium-firm mattress for side sleepers and a firmer mattress for stomach and back sleepers, Gerard Girasole, MD, a board-certified orthopedic surgeon, tells SELF. (If your mattress feels too firm, you can try adding one of these best-selling mattress toppers for extra comfort.)
The materials in your new bed can give you a better idea of its cushioning and firmness. Both Dr. Cyril and Dr. Girasole say innerspring mattresses and ones constructed with pocketed coils will have a different feel from solid foam beds. A mattress with an innerspring layer is built for overall firmness and support, while a pocket coil mattress will contour to your body’s shape in order to provide further pressure relief.
A memory foam mattress, on the other hand, will isolate motion more effectively and feel much softer—some foam beds can even make you feel like you’re sinking into them. Despite their differences, mattresses with springs and ones made of foam have their benefits, which is why many mattress brands offer hybrid mattresses that contain both coils and layers of memory foam.
These general recommendations should help people with back pain narrow down their search, but mattress shopping is, ultimately, a matter of personal preference. Even with these guidelines in mind, you may have to test-drive a few mattresses before you find the one that gives you the back pain relief you crave. Luckily, major brands like Casper, Purple, Helix, and more offer generous trial periods to do just that. Below, we’ve highlighted some of the best mattresses for back pain on the market right now, in the hopes that you’ll find the best mattress to support your back and wake up ache-free.
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