3 years ago

How To Choose A Mattress That Will Keep Your Back Healthy

Choosing the right mattress for your back can be a difficult task, so follow these tips to find one that keeps you pain-free and gives you a great night's sleep.

How to choose a mattress

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Sleeping on a good mattress isn't just important for getting a comfortable night’s sleep. 

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

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

This is because sleeping on a mattress that is too soft can throw your spine out of alignment.

Which puts pressure and strain on your body that can cause aches and pains throughout the night.

While sleeping on a mattress that is too firm can give your pain in your pressure points, especially in your hips, shoulders, and lower back.

So when you consider that you spend a third of your life in bed, this is a serious cause for concern. 

And the scientists agree.

As 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 with persistent back pain it's vital that we find a mattress that can support and cushion us as we sleep to relieve the pressure on our bodies.

As this can help to take away the pain as well as greatly improving your quality of life.

My Own Experience Of Finding My Ideal Mattress

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 back pain began I've found that sleeping on certain types of mattresses aren’t just uncomfortable for me.

They can 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 lay down on one for 10 minutes without feeling pain, let alone sleep through the night.

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

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 it was made from memory foam and 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.

As even the worlds greatest memory foam mattress would be a disaster for me.

So instead I have to sleep on a mattress that pushes back against my body rather than allowing me to sink in, such as one made from pocket springs or firmer latex.

But what works for me may not work for you.

As many people with back pain swear by sleeping on memory foam.

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

The following tips will all help you to do just that.

1. Firmer Doesn't Necessarily Mean Better

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’s become almost common knowledge.

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

For instance, one study by the Kovacs Foundation in Spain 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 afterwards than those using firm mattresses.

So it seems that using a medium-firm mattress is the way to go for people with back pain.

And when you think about it this makes sense.

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

And this is especially true when sleeping on your side.

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

So ideally you want a mattress that cushions you and 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 without putting pressure on your pressure points.

So when mattress shopping look out for one that has a medium firmness.

2. Choose The Right Type Of Mattress For YOU

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

As there are so many materials available.

And the right one will all depend on whether you need more comfort, more support, more bounce, or a cooler sleeping surface.

So I'm going to narrow your focus down to the four best types of mattresses for people with back pain, which are:

  • Memory foam mattresses.
  • Latex mattresses.
  • Pocket springs mattresses.
  • Hybrid mattresses.

Memory Foam

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

As they cushion you and mold to the contours of your body as you lie on them, which gives you the feeling of floating on a cloud.

This makes them great for relieving 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 5 lbs/per cubic ft and upwards.

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

Another drawback with memory foam mattresses are that they are the hottest ones to sleep on as they trap body heat.

But you can get memory foam that is designed to be more breathable, such as gel-infused or open cell, which will give you a cooler night's sleep.

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.​

And 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, giving you a healthier sleeping experience.


Latex mattresses are a great option if you are needing more support for your back.

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

But that's not to say they are uncomfortable.

As the latex will also mold to the shape of your body similar to memory foam.

But rather than allowing you to sink in too far it pushes back against your body weight to give you a supported and elevated feeling as you sleep.

Which is great for keeping your spine in alignment and helping you to maintain a healthy sleeping posture.

Both of which will ease the pressure and strain on your body as you sleep.

The latex also reacts to your every movement, which makes 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.

Plus latex is a breathable material so you can be assured of a cool and comfortable sleep.

Also 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).

And it doesn't have the toxic chemical smell that can come initially with memory foam mattresses.

So they are a healthy option for your bedroom.

However, because of this they are also more expensive than memory foam mattresses.

There are two types of latex you can go for, one processed using the Talalay method and the other processed using the Dunlop method.

And I'd recommend going for the Talalay processed latex, as it's more elastic, springy and resilient than Dunlop processed 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 mattress.

Pocket Springs

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

And they are another comfortable and breathable 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.

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

Pushing back against your body weight to keep your spine in alignment and your sleeping posture healthy.

Which is great for relieving pressure and giving you a great night's sleep.

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 will need replacing more often.

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

A Hybrid Of Materials

Hybrid mattresses are becoming a lot more commonplace nowadays.

As they are made from a combination of memory foams, latex, and pocket springs to give people the best of all worlds.

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

And there are some great examples of hybrid mattresses that I'd recommend for anyone 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 than what you'd usually get from just a single layer of memory foam.

And the companies that make these mattresses are constantly testing, refining, and updating their design, so you are guaranteed to get the best that modern science has to offer.

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 sleep.

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.

So what works for me or others may not necessarily work for you.

And it’s also 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, as 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 looking on.

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

This way you can spend weeks or months sleeping on your new mattrress in the comfort of your own home before having to fully commit to buying it.

Which is ideal when you consider what a big purchase a new mattress is.

And if you do decide you don't want it you can return it for a full refund and try a different one.

Most companies that offer free trial periods do so for around 100-days which is brilliant.

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 if you're in the market I'd highly recommend trying any of these mattresses to give your back the comfort and support it needs.

4. Make Sure It's Comfortable

​This one sounds quite obvious right?

But I've included it because it's all too easy to become so preoccupied with finding the mattress with great support for your back that you overlook whether you'll be able to sleep comfortably on it too!

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

As this comfort will cushion your body and relieve pressure and strain as you sleep.

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

So make sure yours ticks both boxes and look for a mattress that has a good mix of comfort and support, not just one or the other.

5. Choose A Breathable Mattress

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

As it will make it cooler to sleep on and stop you from overheating during the night.

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 oxygen and nutrients they need to be able to heal and repair.

So 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 make them a vast improvement on the traditional ones in terms of airflow and staying cool.

Also some are gel or charcoal infused to keep them cooler too.

And while they will still get hot at times, they will sleep a lot cooler than regular memory foam.

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

As no one likes waking up all hot and sweaty in the middle of the night.

6. Don't Let Your Mattress Get Too Old

Unfortunately mattresses don't last for ever.

As 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.

As this can have a real negative impact on your back, throwing you out of alignment and putting pressure on your body throughout the night.

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.

But while this may be a big expense, your health and well-being are worth it.

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

In fact, sometimes it can be just the opposite.

So shop around and find the one that suits you, rather than just going for the one with all the bells and whistles.

But do make sure you replace any mattress that is starting to feel a bit crappy.

7. Get A Mattress Topper Instead

Replacing a mattress that is giving you back pain with a more suitable one is always going to be the best option.

However, it is also a big expense.

So another option available to you is to buy a mattress topper instead.

As these toppers can breathe new life into a tired out mattress.

And depending on which type you go for they can make a soft mattress firmer and more supportive, or a firm mattress softer and more comfortable. 

So 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 from 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.

8. Choose The Right Pillow Too

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

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

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

So 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 wedge pillow can also reduce pressure on your lower back.

So by using these pillows you can keep your body aligned correctly and reduce pressure on your spine, which in turn reduces your back pain.

Click here to find out more about the best pillows for people with back pain.

Rounding Up

Choosing the right mattress that can relieve pressure on your body is crucial if you want to get rid of back pain during the night.

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

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

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

In fact, it may even go a long way to getting rid of your back pain.

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

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I'm a psychology graduate and a veteran of 5 spinal surgeries. I want to help people learn how to fight back against persistent back pain just like I have.

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