About 31 million Americans suffer from low back pain at one time or another. From work injuries to poor posture and weight gain, there are numerous causes of back pain. One culprit you might not consider is your mattress. After all, laying down at night and resting should make your back feel better, not worse, right? The truth is, this depends on the type of mattress you have, what it’s made of, and how firm or soft it is. Other factors like your sleep position and even your pillow can all play a role in exacerbating your back pain instead of relieving it.
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Signs Your Mattress Is to Blame
A dull ache in your lower back. Shooting pains down your leg. Numbness in your limbs.
These are all signs of serious back trouble. But how can you tell if your mattress is to blame?
Here are a few tell-tale signs that your mattress and back pain are connected.
When Your Back Pain Occurs
Do you wake feeling stiff and achy? Does your pain subside after performing a few stretches and moving around?
If your discomfort only lasts for 10-15 minutes after waking up, it’s a sure sign that your mattress is to blame.
Tossing and turning during the night and frequently waking to change position is another clue that your mattress may be doing more harm than good.
Other Beds Feel Better
Do you feel well-rested after staying at a hotel or sleeping on a friend’s futon? Does their mattress offer something yours doesn’t?
If you have less back pain after sleeping somewhere other than your own bed, it may be a hint that your mattress is the root of your discomfort.
What’s Your Mattress Made Of?
Firm, soft, or just right. Goldie Locks struggled to find the perfect porridge and you may be experiencing the same dilemma when choosing a mattress.
There’s no one-size-fits-all answer for what mattress is best for relieving back pain. Some people prefer a solid, firm mattress while others like the feeling of sleeping on a soft cloud.
Here are a few pros and cons to each.
For years it was thought that a firm mattress was best for back pain. People were under the assumption that the more support, the better. And while this may be true for some people, a firm mattress might worsen back pain for others.
A firm mattress helps your spine stay in a neutral position. This keeps your body straighter throughout the night. Firm mattresses also allow for better blood flow by reducing pressure on your circulatory system.
The stability of a firm mattress keeps your lower back from collapsing, letting you breathe more deeply.
While those sleepers who enjoy a firm mattress swear by them, they can take some getting used to. Give yourself several days to adjust to a firmer mattress if you’re switching from something softer.
Depending on the cause of your back pain, a firm mattress could make matters worse. Back pain caused by certain conditions like arthritis or scoliosis may not react well to a firm mattress.
It can also be difficult to find a quality, firm mattress due to companies promoting a “soft and plush” sleep experience. Although your mind might automatically think firm means “hard and uncomfortable”, this isn’t always the case.
You should also consider your weight when choosing a mattress. Individuals who are slightly overweight may actually cause indentations in the mattress and add unnecessary pressure to already painful areas of your back.
Sleeping on a cloud might sound like a dream (literally), but there are both benefits and negatives to opting for a soft mattress.
A soft mattress can offer comfort to those with extreme joint pain. Soft mattresses put less pressure on your back and pain points.
Softer mattresses work best for lighter individuals. The less pressure and weight placed on the mattress, the more spinal support you’ll receive.
Mattress toppers and other pillow-top options can easily be added to a firm mattress, offering you the best of both worlds.
The primary downside to sleeping on a soft mattress is inadequate support.
A soft mattress doesn’t allow your spine to rest naturally. Instead, it’s pushed out of alignment, causing back pain rather than preventing it. This also reduces your chance of getting a quality night sleep.
There are various opinions on how soon to replace your mattress, but one thing most people agree on is that a softer mattress will age much faster than a firm one. Not only are plush mattresses generally more expensive, but they also need to be replaced more frequently.
Consider Different Types of Mattresses
Wouldn’t the world be a simple place if the only mattress choice you had was firm or soft? The truth is, there are countless mattress types available, only complicating your decision further.
But when it comes to your mattress and back pain, here’s what you need to know about some of the most common choices.
One of the most popular mattress choices, memory foam offers those with back pain a balanced sleep experience.
The base of the mattress is solid and the foam top provides soft, cushioned support. Most memory foam mattresses are built with several layers and as the name implies, conforms to your body, allowing for a consistent, personalized rest each and every night.
Pillow toppers can describe both the mattress itself or an additional layer of upholstery placed on top.
This mattress option is similar to memory foam and offers a personalized feel. Pillow toppers are on the softer side, which means they make or may not relieve your back pain.
Pillow toppers are best for side sleepers and those suffering from joint pain. They can also ease hip and shoulder pain. The best part is, pillow toppers come in a variety of softness levels, meaning you can choose the best one to suit your needs.
Gel-infused mattresses are praised for their ability to regulate body temperature. Are you a hot sleeper? Do you wake up with night sweats?
Adding a gel layer to your mattress can help keep you cool, dry, and comfortable throughout the night.
Gel mattresses offer a unique experience that combines the flexibility of a memory foam mattress with the support of a more traditional base.
Innerspring mattresses, also known as coil mattresses, are a more traditional option. Before there were memory foam, gel, or even waterbeds, most people slept on spring mattresses.
But even this traditional option has evolved over the years to improve sleep and reduce back pain. The best way to decide if an innerspring mattress will offer adequate support is by seeing how many coils it has and how they’re distributed.
Innerspring mattresses have coils and springs of different shapes and gauges. Different designs will conform differently to your body.
The best part is that back, stomach, and side sleepers can all feel the benefits of an innerspring mattress.
Cue the 80’s disco music. You might’ve thought that the waterbed died with your old CD’s and bellbottoms, but the truth is they’re still out there.
One of the main reasons waterbeds aren’t as popular as they once were is due to their lack of support and overall discomfort. Many people can’t find a comfortable position while sleeping atop a surface that’s constantly moving. Another downside is that partners sharing a bed suffer from disrupted sleep every time you roll over.
Waterbeds come in both free-flow and waveless varieties, with the latter offering slightly more support. If you suffer from back pain, chances are you need more support than a waterbed can offer.
Do you toss and turn all night trying to find the best sleep position? If using a body pillow or multiple pillows doesn’t work, an adjustable bed might be the perfect way to relieve back pain and find a comfortable sleeping position.
Adjustable bases come with a flexible mattress that moves and bends along with the base. Using specific controls you can elevate your head or feet separately or together until you find the most supportive position.
Adjustable beds are perfect for anyone dealing with chronic back pain, sleep apnea, muscle aches, or RLS (restless leg syndrome).
Understanding the Relationship Between Your Mattress and Back Pain
There are countless ways to relieve back pain from getting a massage or seeing a chiropractor to amping up your exercise regime. But why not start right at home by evaluating the relationship between your mattress and back pain?
Check out our Sleep Academy for more information and tips on getting a quality night’s sleep.
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