Finding the Best Mattress for Lower Back Pain

Finding the Best Mattress for Lower Back Pain

Finding the best mattress for lower back pain can be a little complicated with so many options on the market and so many claims of pain relief.  How do you which one might actually help, and which ones to avoid? Lower back pain is a big issue, and understanding how pain and beds relate can be helpful when searching for the best mattress for lower back pain,

Back Pain is an Epidemic

Lower back pain is nearly an epidemic in the U.S. with people under 45 years old considering it the number one reason for limiting activities. It is the second most common reason people visit their doctor and the third most common reason cited for surgery. In addition, lower back pain is the fifth leading cause for people to be placed in the hospital. The reasons people experience back pain are numerous, from work habits to posture to sleep.

One cause of back pain that plagues many, and can be easily addressed, is sleeping on an unsupportive or worn-out mattress. Because pain can make life less enjoyable, it is important to take steps to alleviate and prevent it. This article will begin by looking at a few ways to tell if your bed is to blame and then will explore what features prove most desirable when seeking the best mattress for lower back pain.

Is Your Mattress Causing Your Back Pain?

  • Is your pain level highest when you first wake up and get out of bed?
  • Do you have a hard time getting comfortable at night?
  • When you sleep on hotel beds or the couch, does your body feel better?
  • Has it been more than 5-7 years since you bought your bed?
  • Does your mattress show obvious wear, like deep impressions (>1″), broken or sagging springs, or springs that can be felt through the pillowtop?

If you answered yes to any of the above questions, there is a chance your back pain might be bed related. Keep reading to learn what you should know in order to choose the best mattress for lower back pain.

If none of these seem to apply to you, then look into other possible aggravating factors like your sleep position (stomach sleepers can be prone to lower back pain, and side sleepers may need to place a cushion between their knees to preserve alignment) or work (do you sit in uncomfortable office chair most of the day or have a strenuous job?).

What is the Best Mattress for Lower Back Pain?

Firmness

For years people who have suffered from back pain have been told to sleep on very firm mattresses in order to support the spine. However, this advice may not yield the best mattress for lower back pain. While sleep studies are subjective, they are the best way to measure differences between the different levels of firmness that are available to consumers. A Spanish study from the Kovacs Foundation followed over 300 people who reported lower back pain linked with sleeping, randomly assigning each either a medium-firm or firm bed for 90 days. Researchers found that the best mattress for lower back pain (upon rising and during the day) was medium-firm according to clinical assessments and participant reports.  SleepLikeTheDead.com also finds medium firmness associated with greatest reports of pain relief compared with soft or firm beds for all sleeping positions (though side sleepers appeared to find equal comfort with soft beds).

Mattress Type

The next question that should be approached is how the mattress is constructed and whether it will provide the necessary support your body needs. Your body should ideally remain level while laying down, without any area sinking further than another. A bed that sags can allow the hips to sink further down and distort the spinal shape, while a bed that does not contour to the sleeper can place added pressure on the hips and shoulders without supporting the lower back. Types of mattresses respond to sleepers’ body differently and understanding how each works can be helpful.

Innerspring/Coil – Innerspring mattresses are the most common type of beds in today’s market. These consist of various systems of metal springs or coils topped in layers of foam and padding. While comfortable when new, over time (within even 1-2 years) the padding materials compress and springs can lose resilience. Most spring systems also fail to contour to the body, causing tense lower back muscles by placing pressure on the hips and shoulders. Indeed, in owner mattress reviews, spring mattresses are associated with the highest rate of complaints for back pain.

Memory Foam – Memory foam is a unique material that distributes weight across its surface, yielding and contouring to the sleeper while reducing pressure points and providing an even support. Memory foam of good quality and density (4.0-5.3 lbs) also tends to offer support longer than spring beds, at least a couple years more on average. Some types of memory foam may be prone to excessive softness or wear, but complaints of premature wear and pain are considerably less common average for memory foam versus springs.

Natural Latex – Natural latex mattresses are made using liquid latex from rubber trees which is whipped into a foam and heated using one of two methods. It can also come from synthetic sources, though that impairs the longevity, durability and comfort of the material. The nature of rubber means natural latex offers a somewhat springy, resilient feel as opposed to the more yielding, slow-recovery sensation of memory foam. Latex comes in several firmness levels and remains the most durable mattress type in terms of longevity. It has the ability to contour to the sleeper’s lower back and support proper alignment, which is why it tends to earn one of the lowest rates of pain complaints of all mattress types.

Beyond Flat

For some people, finding the best mattress for lower back pain is not enough. If you find you sleep better in a recliner or have to prop up your legs or upper body to get comfortable, the solution may be changing the way you sleep. An adjustable bed may help lower back pain sufferers as the feet and head can precisely adjusted to decompress and relax the spine. People often overcompensate with other muscles to make up for areas which are sore. The ability to take the weight off of pressure points will allow muscles to relax and the spine to align and decompress during rest. Adjustable bed bases work best with flexible and durable beds, thus pair naturally with memory foam and latex.

So, the Best Mattress for Lower Back Pain is…

  • Medium to Medium-Firm.
  • Supportive.
  • Able to conform/contour to your body.
  • Not an innerspring model (all specialty mattresses, like memory foam, latex, and water all have fewer complaints of pain in large-scale surveys).

Below is a look at a few different mattress models designed for back pain relief. We’ve covered some of these lines before, but the table below offers a direct comparison of pricing and reviews with our rating for back pain relief.

BrandAmerisleepTempurpedicFloBedsAstrabedsSealySerta
ModelRevereAlluraOrganic SelectSerenityPosturepedic ClassicPerfect Sleeper SmartSurface
TypeMemory FoamMemory FoamNatural LatexNatural LatexInnerspringInnerspring
FirmnessMedium-FirmMedium-FirmMediumMediumMediumMedium
Price (Queen)$1,299$3,199$1,999$1,999$599+$999+
Owner Ratings4.7 / 5 (114 reviews)3.0 / 5 (79 reviews)None on Site4.6 / 5 (16 reviews)None on SiteNone on Site
Review NotesReports of pain relief, no reviews cite pain as a "con"Mixed reports on pain, some issues with softening/heatTestimonials mention pain relief, but no reviews Most reviews mention comfort and support, no pain complaintsSignificant back pain complaints, though good comfort when newMixed reviews on pain, complaints of durability and overall comfort
Our RatingACBADC

*Pricing and reviews collected May 2013, does not include sales or promotions.

Our pick for memory foam is Amerisleep’s Revere Bed, which comes in medium-firm and has excellent owner reviews. The medium-firm Tempurpedic model has lower owner reviews, more significant complaints and higher pricing, resulting in the lower score.

For latex, we revisited Astrabeds and Flobeds. Both offer similar styles of mattresses and pricing (though the Astrabeds model has 2″ more latex), but Flobeds does not allow verified reviews (they have a testimonial page). The Astrabeds Serenity has good reviews and no complaints of pain.

We compared two popular innerspring lines as well, the Sealy Posturepedic Classic and Serta Perfect Sleeper Smart Surface (with memory foam), and though neither had owner reviews on their websites, both had similar issues on third party review sites like complaints of pain and early wear.

Ultimately, after looking at reviews and surveys, we recommend considering memory foam or latex mattresses if you suffer from lower back pain. They consistently rate higher than spring beds in terms of pain relief and prevention as well as overall owner satisfaction. But, it is also important to keep in mind that improper support can be caused by numerous factors, including the quality of the mattress, it’s age, the firmness level, and whether or not you have specific health considerations to account for. Finding the best mattress for lower back pain can be a challenge, but taking the time to learn about and research different beds can pay off exponentially in comfort and improved sleep.

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