What is the Best Mattress for Back Pain?
As a chiropractor, I am often asked from patients who are looking for pain relief about how to sleep or what kind of mattress to get, or if their mattress is any good. As I began my research, I quickly discovered that there are many different varieties of mattresses with most of them making similar promises of a better, more comfortable night of sleep. But which mattress is truly the best? Well if you ask the “experts”, they will tell you a firm mattress is best, in fact, the firmer the better! In a survey of orthopedic surgeons (the apparent “experts” in the field of sleep), 95% believed that mattresses played an important role in the management of low back pain, and 76% recommended a firm mattress. Unfortunately, this statement given by our surgical counterparts lacks any actual evidence. The evidence related to this topic would actually lead you in the direction of medium-firm, but as we discuss a little later, not everyone’s medium-firm is the same.
Which Material is Best?
Let us start this topic off by breaking it down into its individual parts. Mattresses are generally
made of a few different materials: foam, conventional coil springs, combinations of foam and coil, and water beds. Of these materials, the research tends to lean towards coil springs as they tend to distribute body pressure more narrowly, which according to the research, is preferred. Foam mattresses are another good option for perceived comfort, and they do dissipate heat better than coils which is also important in a good night’s rest. In my opinion, the combination mattresses yield the best of both worlds when it comes to relieving pain and staying cool throughout the night. As for waterbeds…I would not recommend. My only experience with waterbeds is watching my dad constantly fill his up with a garden hose he strung through a window because it would always spring a leak! Waterbeds over little in the form of support and forget about getting any un-interrupted sleep if you or your partner move as little as a finger through the night.
Picking the Ideal Firmness
The next important aspect to look for when picking out a mattress is the firmness of the material. There are generally four levels of firmness to choose from: firm, medium-firm, and soft. If a mattress is too soft, it will have no problem distributing weight, but the spine and body will become distorted from its normal position pinching nerves and occluding blood vessels causing pain and discomfort. If a mattress is too hard, it will have no problem
supporting the spine, but it will put too much pressure on certain areas of the body causing discomfort and pain. The ideal firmness of a mattress according to the research is medium firm. A group of researchers in Spain randomly assigned 313 adults with chronic, nonspecific low back pain to either a firm mattress or a medium-firm mattress. After 90 days, the patients with medium-firm mattresses had better outcomes for pain in bed, pain on rising, and disability than the patients with firm mattresses. When pouring over the research, I found that measuring something as subjective as comfort is a challenge. What is comfortable for me shouldn’t be expected to be comfortable for everyone else and this is where making mattress recommendations over the internet is difficult…. but not impossible! Studies have shown that the subjective sensation of comfort correlates directly with spinal distortion and weight distribution. So, when trying out new mattresses ask yourself these two questions as your laying there. Does my body and spine feel supported? Do I feel more pressure on my mid-back, butt, and shoulders? A medium-firm mattress should have you feeling supported and comfortable. You should never sink into your mattress.
So Which Mattress Do I Recommend?
The 12 inch innerspring and gel memory foam mattress by Avenco tops my list this year as the best mattress to help alleviate pain. This mattress has 5 different zones of pocketed innerspring coils with a supported edge to ensure that your body weight is distributed evenly. This designed provides suitable support for side and stomach sleepers. The individually encased springs absorbs motion disturbance between partners as well. What I especially like about this design is the gel-infused foam between the coils allowing the mattress enough ventilation to ensure a cool and comfortable night of sleep. Check out the link provided for more information!
DeVocht JW, Wilder DG, Bandstra ER, Spratt KF. Biomechanical evaluation of four different mattresses. Appl Ergon. 2006;37:297304.
Kovacs M, Abraira V, Peña A, et al. Effect of firmness of mattress on chronic nonspecific lowback pain: randomised, doubleblind, controlled, multicentre trial. Lancet. 2003;362:15991604