The vast majority of people experience back pain over the course of their lives. While there are many potential causes, often the source of this pain can be traced back to issues relating to how someone sleeps.
A mattress that helps to keep the spine aligned and that relieves the body’s biggest pressure points is much more likely to prevent or alleviate back pain. If you have back pain or worry about back pain, choosing the right mattress is not something to take lightly.
You can keep scrolling through this guide for background about back pain, details about how a mattress can help, and insight into the types of mattresses on the market today. You can also just click here to jump straight to our recommendations for the best mattresses for back pain.
What Causes Back Pain?
Back pain, specifically lower back pain, is extremely common. Studies have found that it the cause of more doctor visits than any other ailment in the United States except for colds and the flu.
Not all back pain is the same, and it is usually described as either acute or chronic. Acute back pain doesn’t last as long and usually happens suddenly and in response to a particular event like a twisting of the back. Chronic back pain is a long-term issue that isn’t tied directly to one recent incident.
Structural issues with the spine, such as spinal stenosis or herniated or degenerative discs, can be a cause of back pain. These issues may also make certain people predisposed to flare-ups of back pain. Back pain can also be caused by more serious underlying medical issues. For this reason, you should talk to a health professional if you experience lasting, worsening, or debilitating back pain. Having the right mattress can help, but going to your doctor is a necessary step to rule out more serious issues and to putting you on the right track for pain relief. A doctor may also be able to refer you to physical therapy that can work in concert with your mattress to keep your back as pain-free as possible.
How Can a Mattress Affect Back Pain?
Just given the sheer amount of time that you spend in bed, the design and feel of your mattress plays a direct role in the condition of your back. If your spine is poorly aligned in bed, it can easily lead to aches and pains. In this section, we’ll analyze some of the specific ways your mattress affects back pain and some of the important considerations for mattress shopping as it relates to mitigating this pain.
- Support: our bodies are not perfectly proportional, and when we lie down, some parts of the body may need more cushioning than others. These parts of the body are called pressure points. Every person’s pressure points can be slightly different, but for most people the biggest ones are in the hips and shoulders. Between the hips and shoulders, of course, is the spine, and a mattress that offers robust support for these pressure points can help keep the spine in alignment. By supporting the natural curvature of the spine, a supportive mattress helps reduce stiffness and pain.
- Firmness: this is all about how the mattress feels, and firmness is usually described on a 1-10 scale with 10 being the most firm. Mattresses that are extremely firm or plush usually pose problems when it comes to back pain. On a very firm mattress, there is a lack of support for pressure points (as it would be if you were lying down on concrete). On a very soft mattress, there is too much give, and parts of the body can sink down, quickly causing the spine to become misaligned. Medium-firm mattresses (5-7 on the firmness scale) are the best for most people and for most sleeping positions.
- Durability: a mattress that is giving out and sagging is not going to be able to offer the kind of support or comfort that you need. Because of this, it’s important to prioritize finding a mattress that will perform well over the entire course of the time that you’re hoping to use it. Mattresses built with high-end materials and high-density foams typically have a longer useful life.
- A good pillow: though not actually part of the mattress, your pillow nonetheless is an important thing to consider when thinking about preventing back pain in bed. In supporting your neck, the pillow plays a role in spinal alignment, and you want to make sure to use a pillow that complements your mattress. Other strategically-placed pillows may also be useful to help with providing support and cushioning depending on your sleeping position.
What Mattress Features Should You Look For?
In addition to looking closely at the mattress characteristics that directly influence the risk of back pain, you also want to keep an eye out for these other features when mattress shopping.
- High-end components: when you look at a mattress, you don’t actually see the most important part of it. No matter how nice a mattress looks or how nice it sounds when described by the manufacturer, what really matters is how well it is built. If you want durability and performance, you need materials that are solid enough to deliver. When shopping, look for mattresses that have their full specifications posted for all to see online: it shouldn’t take extensive hunting to find these details. Then you’ll want to look closely at the mattress composition. If you notice any poorly-designed layers, be wary. All of the layers of a mattress work together, so one shoddy layer can be costly to the mattress as a whole.
- Solid comfort layer: the comfort layer provides the most immediate source of support to the body’s pressure points. If this layer is too thin or made with cheap foam, there will be a much higher probability that you won’t get the support or durability that you need to combat back pain. Our advice is to look for combined comfort layers of 3” or more and when foam is used, a minimum foam density of 3.5 pounds per cubic foot (PCF) for those layers.
- Bang for your buck: regardless of how much you’re ready to spend on a mattress, you don’t want to be the person who overpays. Look for well-designed mattresses that are competitively priced relative to similar models on the market. Also make sure to be on the lookout for promotions and coupons that can bring down your out-of-pocket cost.
- Free shipping: if you’re buying online, the industry norm is for shipping to be included in your purchase price. We recommend looking for a mattress that clearly offers free shipping so that you don’t get saddled with an unexpected extra cost.
- No-risk sleep trial: you may be worried about buying a mattress if you can’t first test it out in a store. Thankfully, most online mattress sellers provide a convenient alternative: the in-home sleep trial. During this trial, which is often around 3 months in length, you can return the mattress and get your full purchase price refunded if you find that the mattress doesn’t meet your needs. Whenever possible, look for a sleep trial that gives you plenty of time to try the mattress, does not include any restocking or return shipping fees, and that does not have any other restrictions (such as a minimum number of nights that you must try it out).
- Strong review history: you can learn a great deal about a mattress from its customer reviews. However, you want to make sure that you look only at verified reviews, which are far more reliable and give a better sense of the true performance of the mattress.
- Able to be used with an adjustable frame: an adjustable frame is controlled by a remote and allows you to move the head or legs of the bed up or down. For some people who suffer with back problems, adjustable frames let them maintain more comfortable sleeping positions. Many types of mattresses can be used with these frames, but you may want to check this in advance if you plan to use this type of bed base.
What Types of Mattresses Are Available?
Whether you’re shopping online or in-store, there are generally 5 types of mattresses available:
In these mattresses, several layers of foams are stacked on top of one another. The mattress maker can select foams of different thicknesses and with varying characteristics of firmness and responsiveness in order to create a particular feel for the mattress as a whole.
When the entire mattress is composed of latex, a type of rubber, we call it a latex mattress. This may also be called an “all-latex” or “true latex” mattress. Latex is a responsive material but also has more resilience or bounce than most foams.
A tried-and-true mattress design, these models use coils to form a base of support that usually provides a considerable amount of bounce. Innerspring mattresses also usually include a pillowtop or foam comfort layer to give extra cushioning.
A hybrid mattress has the same support core as an innerspring model (metal coils), but the comfort layer(s) are thicker. As a result, the hybrid involves a more balanced combination of materials including coils, foam, and/or latex. We consider a mattress to be a hybrid if its combined comfort layers are greater than 3”.
Utilizing an inflatable air chamber to determine firmness, these mattresses provide a high-level of customization for each user. The amount of air can be adjusted using a remote or using a smartphone. In addition, there may be a thin comfort layer of foam or latex materials on top of the air chamber.
What Are the Best Mattresses For Back Pain?
Because no two sleepers are the exact same, it’s difficult to select only one mattress as the best when it comes to limiting back pain. But below we’ve listed our top 4 mattresses for back pain with each representing a different mattress type.
The Saatva mattress is our selection for the best innerspring mattress for back pain.
- Its coil-on-coil design gives it a strong support core that offers plenty of bounce.
- The mattress is available in multiple firmness levels to accommodate customer preferences.
- It has been on the market since 2010 and has received good reviews for performance and customer support.
- If you decide to return the Saatva during the sleep trial, the company deducts $99 from your refund as a return shipping fee.
You can read about this mattress in more detail in our Saatva mattress review.
The Leesa mattress is our selection for the top foam mattress for back pain.
- This is an extremely popular mattress that has maintained strong reviews even with tens of thousands of mattresses sold.
- The latex-like Avena foam comfort layer supported by memory foam allows for both pressure point relief and resilience and bounce.
- It is available at an affordable price point relative to many foam mattresses with a similar design.
- The thinner top layer of Avena foam may be more prone to wear-and-tear, especially for customers who weigh over 250 pounds.
Read more information about this mattress in our Leesa mattress review.
Our top choice for the best true-latex mattress for back pain is the Sleep on Latex Pure Green mattress.
- Each Sleep on Latex mattress is built with solid slabs of high-end, well-sourced latex.
- Customers can select from two different thickness options and multiple firmness options.
- The company has received excellent reviews from customers for the quality of the mattress and for their customer support.
- Sleep on Latex does not disclose the full specifications of the mattress, leaving out some details about the density and ILD of the latex that is used.
- These mattresses can be bulky, heavy, and hard to move, especially for the thicker and firmer models.