How To Choose A Mattress That Will Keep Your Back Healthy

Choosing the right mattress to keep you pain-free during the night can be a difficult task, so follow these 7 tips to find one to keep you healthy and give you a great night's sleep too. 

how to choose a mattress

​Have you ever taken a look back through your old black book? 

I did this recently and it was quite a revealing exercise. ​

Variety has been the spice of my life for sure. 

They have come in all shapes and sizes. 

Some were firm.

Whilst others were a little saggy around the middle. 

Some were highly strung and temperamental.

Whilst others were soft and comfortable. 

Some made me want to get home and rush straight to the bedroom.

Whilst I couldn't face a night with others unless I had a drink inside me.

A few were into latex and kept me up all night long. 

While others were the nurturing type and helped me to relax. 

However I found that lots of them had the type of memory that never forgets. 

And even the best ones needed replacing after a few years.

So in the end I came to the conclusion that there were just too many options available.

And that I'd always find it difficult to choose the right one.

So if this sounds familiar to you then I want to help you out today.

But before you accuse me of being a sexist so-and-so I need to point out that I'm not offering dating advice here.

Instead I'm offering you guidance in just as confusing an area.

And that is how to choose the right mattress (and not end up with a mattress black book as varied as mine!).

Why It's So Important to Choose the Right Mattress

Mattress for back pain

Choosing the right mattress isn't just important because it helps you to get a decent night’s sleep. 

It's also important because sleeping on the wrong kind of mattress could be the cause of back pain.

And this is true for chronic pain sufferers and 'healthy' people alike. 

This is because a bad mattress can throw your spine and neck out of alignment.

Which after a few hours in bed can cause aches and pains throughout your body.

And when you consider you spend a third of your life in bed then this is a serious cause for concern! 

The scientists agree.​

In a survey of orthopaedic surgeons, 95% of them believed that the type of mattress people used played a part in how well they could manage their lower back pain.

And they should know right?

So for people like us with chronic lower back pain it's vital that we find a suitable mattress.

As it can greatly improve your quality of life.

And I know from personal experience just how much of a problem sleeping on the wrong type of mattress is for me.

Because since my chronic pain problem began I've found that certain types of mattresses aren’t just uncomfortable for me.

They cause me serious pain.

For instance any mattress that I sink in to (especially memory-foam type mattresses) give me massive problems. 

In fact I can’t even lie on one for 10 minutes let alone sleep through the night!

And this makes booking hotels for holidays or staying at friend’s places a total lottery.

For example I can remember one Christmas treating myself to a week-long stay in a beautiful apartment in Barcelona.

It was perfectly located just one block away from the Sagrada Familia.

And the photos of the interior looked amazing, especially the bedroom.

As it had a fantastic king-sized bed that I couldn't wait to test out.

However after dropping my bags and laying down on the bed for 5 minutes I knew I wasn’t going to be able to sleep on it.

​Because I could feel the pain triggering in my back muscles already.

So what did I do instead?

I ended up spending the week sleeping on the crappy pull-out sofa bed.


The maid must have thought I was the tidiest guest ever as after a weeks worth of use the bedroom remained immaculate!

So you can see what I mean about the importance of getting the right mattress for you.

Now I have an idea of what works for me and what doesn't but everyone is different.

​So what works for me may not work for you.

For instance lots of people with back pain swear by sleeping on memory foam.

So how can you know which is the right type of mattress for you?

1. Forget The 'Firmer The Better' Mantra For Mattresses For Back Pain

The notion that firm mattresses are the best option for people with back pain has been around for donkey’s years. 

So long in fact that it is commonly held as being the truth.

It’s the kind of thing we hear and just accept right?

However scientific research has suggested this isn’t the case. 

For instance one study gave 313 people with chronic lower back pain mattresses of varying levels of firmness to try out.

And after 90 days the results were surprising.

As the ones who were using medium-firm mattresses had less pain than those using firm mattresses.

So it seems that using a medium-firm mattress is the way.

And when you think about it this makes sense.

Because when a mattress is too firm it can put pressure on your hips and shoulders.

This is especially the case when sleeping on your side.

And if there's no give in the mattress then your body is forced into an unnatural position.

So you want a mattress that allows you to sink in a little but not too far.

As then it can still support the natural curve of your spine and keep it in alignment.

And the research suggests that a medium-firm mattress is the way to go.

2. Choose The Right Type Of Mattress For You

One of the most confusing things when mattress shopping is working out which type would suit you the best.

This can all depend on whether you need more comfort, more support, more bounce or a cooler sleeping surface​.

So I'm going to focus on the four best types of mattress for people with back pain​:

  • Memory foam.
  • Latex.
  • Pocket springs.
  • Hybrids.

​Memory Foam

Memory foam mattresses are the most comfortable mattresses to sleep on.

As they mould to the contours of your body as you lie on them​ which gives you the feeling of floating on a cloud.

This relieves the pressure on your pressure points and allows your body to relax fully as you sleep.

And it also helps to stop you tossing and turning during the night, allowing you to drift into a deeper and more restorative sleep.

​So they can be great for pain relief.

However they are not as supportive as latex mattresses and may be too soft for some.

But if you do want to get a memory foam mattress with better support go for one with a density of 5lbs per cbft and upwards.

As the more dense the memory foam is the firmer and more supportive it will be.

Memory foam mattresses are also the hottest ones to sleep on as they trap body heat​.

So make sure you find out that is breathable to counteract this.

And they are also man-made using petroleum-based chemicals.

This means they can give off VOCs (volatile organic compounds) which can cause health issues such as asthma, allergies, and eye, nose and throat irritations over the long-term. 

So they are not the healthiest or most environmentally friendly option.​

They can also give off a chemical odour when you first get them (although this should fade after a few days).​

However if you look for memory foam mattresses that are CertiPur-US certified you can minimise these problems.

As these will be low in VOCs and made without harmful chemicals.


​Latex mattresses are the ones to go for if you are needing more support.

Because while they are not as comfortable as memory foam matttresses they are cooler, bouncier, more supportive and more durable.

​But that's not to say they are uncomfortable.

As the latex will also mould to the shape of your body similar to the memory foam/

But rather than allowing you to sink in too much it pushes back to give you a supported and elevated feeling as you sleep.

And this doesn't just bring pressure relief and keep your spine in good alignment.

It also reacts to your every movement making moving around in bed far easier.

Which for me makes latex a great choice for people with back pain​ as you get a great mix of comfort and support.

Latex is also breathable so you can be assured of a cool and comfortable sleep.

And it's a more natural and healthy option than memory foam as it's made from rubber tree sap and contains very low levels of VOCs (if any).

It will also not carry the toxic chemical smell that can come initially with memory ​foam mattresses.

So they are a healthy option for your bedroom.

Now latex is processed using two different methods (Talalay and Dunlop) and they both give a different end product.

I'd recommend going for the Talalay latex as it's more elastic, springier and resilient than ​the Dunlop latex.

It also allows 228% greater airflow so it's more breathable and cooler to sleep on.

And a great example of a naturally made Talalay latex mattress is the Zenhaven mattress.​

This is my top choice for a mattress​ for back pain as it provides the best combination of support and comfort as well as being an extremely healthy and eco-friendly .

Pocket Springs

Pocket spring mattresses are what work best for me and my back.

And they are another comfortable option that offer good support for your back during the night.

​As they are made up of 1000s of springs that work individually to support every movement of your body.

Pocket spring mattress

So they are great at adapting to each individual and every sleeping position.

And the more springs the mattress has the firmer and more supportive it is.

So for people with back pain I'd recommend finding one with at least 1,500 springs.

As this will give you the level of support you need.​

Pocket spring mattresses are also more breathable and cooler than memory foam as air can flow through them and they don't trap any body heat.​

However ​they are less durable than latex and memory foam.

​And latex mattresses can now match them for support and comfort.


hybrid mattress

Hybrid mattresses attempt to fit a combination of the above materials in the same mattress to give people the best of all worlds.

And you will find that lots of mattresses on the market will be a hybrid mix of latex, memory foam and pocket springs​.

This gives them the best chance of giving you the best mix of comfort and support.

​And there are some great examples of hybrid mattresses that are great for people with back pain.

For example there is the Sapira mattress in the US and the Simba Hybrid in the UK​ which combine synthetic latex, individual pocket springs and memory foam to bring an awesome level of support and comfort.

Then there is the Leesa mattress that offers 3 layers of different types of foam to give more support to the usual comfort provided by just a single layer of memory foam.​

And there are numerous others that add a thin layer of latex on top of memory foam to stop sinkage and add more support too​.

So I think you'll see a lot more of these innovations in the future.

Which is great news as each advancement increases the chances of giving us a pain-free night's kip!​

3. Try Before You Buy

Now after reading through the different types of mattresses that are available you may have an inkling as to which one would suit you the best.

However it's important to remember that everyone is different.

What works for me or others may not necessarily work for you.

And it’s important that you use your own experiences to find out which type of mattress will give you a better night’s sleep and won’t leave you in pain.

So think back to all the different mattresses you've slept on.

This will give you an idea of what works for you.

And more importantly what doesn't!

However this may not always be a true indicator as you are mostly only using them short-term.

Therefore it’s important when buying a mattress to make sure you try them out thoroughly.

Now this obviously isn't easy to do.​

In fact it's impossible to do it by laying down on one in a department store for a few minutes at a time with an over-eager salesperson staring on.

And social anxiety while doing this means so many people get rushed into making a decision that is so important for their long-term health and well-being.

Don't let this be you!

A far better option is to buy a mattress from a company that offer a free home trial period.

This means you can return it for a full refund if you are not satisfied after a certain amount of time.

The best ones do this nowadays with the most common free trial period being 100-days.​

And this is ideal.

As after a couple of months of sleeping on a new mattress at home you'll know for sure whether you have made the right choice or not.

Now I've written an article reviewing what I consider to be the best mattresses for back pain and these all come with home trial periods.

So ​I'd highly recommend trying any of these mattresses.

And you can check them out by clicking below:

>> Read more: My Review of The ​Best Mattresses for Back Pain in 2017

4. Make Sure It's Comfortable Too!

mattress for back pain

​This one sounds quite obvious right?

But it's easy to become so preoccupied with finding the mattress that best supports your back that it you overlook whether you'll be able to sleep comfortably on it too!

And being able to get a good night’s sleep is just as important as making sure your spine is supported and aligned correctly throughout the night.

Because being able to relax and drift off into a deep sleep is vital ​if your body is going to be able to heal, repair and rejuvenate during the night.

So make sure yours ticks both boxes!

However if you already have a mattress that feels too firm or too soft but don't want to go to the expense of replacing it, buying a good quality mattress topper could be a good alternative in the meantime.

These toppers can breathe new life into an old mattress and are great form making a firm mattress softer.

And they can increase both comfort and support.

They come in many types and variations, but the two types that are best for people with back pain are ones made of memory foam or latex.

And which one you need depends on whether you are looking for more comfort or more support.

So if your mattress needs a bit more comfort then a memory foam mattress topper will help you to relax and sleep better during the night.

However if your mattress needs more support then a latex mattress topper will be better as it will keep you aligned and supported.

I've written a review of the best latex and memory foam mattress toppers for back pain that you can take a look at by clicking below.

>> Read more: Which is the Best Mattress Topper for your Back Pain?​

5. Choose A Breathable Mattress

don't let your mattress get too old

Now I've already mentioned the advantages of getting a mattress that is breathable.

As it will make your mattress cooler to sleep on and help you to get a great night's sleep.

But it's even more important to help you get rid of your back pain.

Because sleeping on a breathable mattress helps to regulate your body temperature throughout the night.

And this is vital as it will increase your blood flow and circulation​.

Which means your aching muscles​ get the nutrients and oxygen they need to be able to heal and repair.

​Great news for your back!

And out of all the mattress types I've talked about here latex is the best for ​allowing air to flow through it.

However some high quality memory foam ​mattresses now have an open cell structure that are a vast improvement on the traditional ones in terms of airflow and staying cool.

And some are gel or charcoal infused to keep them cooler.​

So while they will still get hot at times it will be a lot less hot than regular memory foam.​

So when you are mattress shopping make sure you take notice of how breathable and cool ​the mattresses you are considering sleeps.

>> Read more: My Review of The Top 6 ​Best Mattresses for Back Pain in 2017

6. Don't Let Your Mattress Get Too Old 

Unfortunately mattresses don't last for ever.

Even the best one that has served you well for years will reach it's sell-by-date eventually.

And when it does what was once a trusty companion can turn into your worst enemy!​

So make sure that you don’t end up sleeping on a mattress that has lost its support and is sagging in all the wrong places.

Now as a rule of thumb you should aim to replace your mattress every 8 years.

Although the higher quality ones should last a bit longer than this.

This may be a big expense but your health and well-being are worth it.

And remember, the right mattress for you doesn’t necessarily mean the most expensive.

In fact sometimes it can be just the opposite.

So find the one that suits you rather than the one with all the bells and whistles.​

>> Read more: My Review of The ​Best Mattresses for Back Pain <<

7. Choose The Right Pillow

Mattress for back pain

This may seem like a strange inclusion as it's not directly related to mattresses.

But it's really important that you use the right pillow that will keep your neck and spine in alignment whilst sleeping.

And the right pillow will all depend on your regular sleeping position.

As a general rule of thumb the following applies:

Side sleepers

A thicker, firmer pillow is needed as it helps to keep your neck supported and in alignment without sagging.​

Back sleepers

A medium-thick pillow is needed as it keeps your head in alignment at a decent level (not too high or too low). ​

Stomach sleepers

Your head needs to stay fairly flat in this position so look for a soft, flat pillow that keeps your neck in line with your spine.

​And as well as choosing the best head pillow for your sleeping style you can also use body pillows to keep you in alignment as you sleep.

These types of pillows can be especially helpful to keep back pain at bay as you sleep.​

For instance if you sleep on your side putting a pillow between your knees can reduce pressure on your back, hips and sciatic nerve.

And if you sleep on your back slightly elevating your feet ​by resting them on a pillow can also reduce pressure on your lower back.

So by using these pillows to keep your body aligned correctly you are reducing pressure on your spine which in turn reduces your pain​.

>> Read more: Is Your Pillow Causing You Back Pain As You Sleep?

Rounding up​

Choosing the right mattress is of vital importance for people with chronic lower back pain.

And while it can be difficult to know where to start, by following the 7 tips in this article you will be well on the way to making a great choice.

So take your time, shop around and find the mattress that works best for you.

As it really can make a massive difference to your quality of sleep, day-to-day pain levels and your ability to cope with chronic pain.

So here's to your new mattress and a great night's sleep.

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I'm a Painter and Decorator, psychology graduate, and veteran of 5 spinal surgeries. I want to help my fellow construction workers to fight back against persistent back pain like I have.

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