How Does A Soft Mattress Cause Back Pain

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Best Mattress for Lower Back Pain

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If you have a bad back, you should buy the firmest mattress you can find — right? Not so fast. While that used to be the common wisdom, there’s no solid research behind it. The latest thinking is that there isn’t one type of mattress that’s best for everyone, including people with chronic back pain. Let personal preference guide you, and choose what feels most comfortable.

But making the right choice can be tricky. So many products are on the market, and just because a mattress feels good when you lie down on it in a showroom doesn’t mean you’re going to be happy sleeping on it for the next several years.

Here are a few tips to guide you:

It Needs to Keep Your Spine Aligned

You may not realize it, but good posture is important when you sleep. The muscles and ligaments (tissue that holds joints together) in your back need to relax and recover while you snooze. If a mattress is too firm — or too squishy — it won’t support your spine at your neck or lower back the way it needs to. What’s firm enough (but not too firm) is different for everyone: If you have wide hips, for instance, a slightly softer surface may be better. You need some more give in order to keep your spine in alignment. Someone with narrower hips might be better off with a firmer surface.

When in Doubt, Go ‘Medium-Firm’

Research is limited, but in one study, researchers assigned new mattresses to more than 300 people with low back pain. They used either "medium-firm" or "firm" mattresses for 90 days. Those in the medium group reported the least amount of discomfort.

You might consider getting a memory foam mattress (instead of a traditional innerspring one). The foam molds to your body. The downside: Some memory foam mattresses keep in heat; and the material might have more chemicals.

Take a Longer Test-Drive

If you have a great night’s sleep and wake up pain-free after staying at a hotel or in a friend’s guest room, copy down that mattress’s model number. Or choose a mattress that comes with a money-back guarantee: A growing number of companies will let you buy a mattress and use it for anywhere from 30 to 100 days and send it back for a refund if you’re not happy with it.

Continued

Just Buy Something

When researchers from Oklahoma State University randomly assigned 62 people to sleep in a variety of new beds for 28 days, they found that almost everyone started to sleep better. That was true regardless of which model they were given, though people who slept in the cheapest beds did report more lower back pain than those in the medium- and higher-priced beds.

The most important thing seemed to be that the beds were new. They noted that the average age of the participants’ old beds was 9.5 years. And they concluded that "sleep quality may be dependent on timely replacement of bedding systems." The takeaway: If you’ve been sleeping on the same mattress for 9 or 10 years (or more), it’s time to get a new one. Almost any new replacement is going to be better than the saggy foundation of an old mattress. But it may pay to spring for at least a mid-priced model.

Pillows and Positions Matter

Even if you have the right mattress, it’s not the only thing that counts when it comes to managing your back pain as you rest. Sleep position is important, as are the kind of pillows you use and where you place them.

Sources

Cleveland Clinic: "Is Your Sleep Position Causing You Back Pain?"

Consumer Reports: "Mattress Buying Guide."

Harvard Healthbeat: "What Type of Mattress is Best for People With Low Back Pain?"

Jacobson, BH. "Grouped Comparisons of Sleep Quality for New and Personal Bedding Systems."Applied Ergonomics, 2008.

Kovacs, FM. “Effect of firmness of mattress on chronic non-specific low-back pain."Lancet, November 2003.

Mayo Clinic: "Slide show: Sleeping positions that reduce back pain."

University of Utah Health Care: “Good Sleeping Posture Helps Your Back."

Is Your Mattress Causing You Back Pain?

Nothing on this website is intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. You should always seek the advice of your physician or other qualified health provider with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition. The contents of this website are for informational purposes only.

There are a lot of different reasons that people experience back pain. Figuring out where your discomfort is coming from can be difficult, especially if you lead an active or challenging life. However, the mattress you go to sleep on at night can play a big part in how you feel in the morning. In other words, it’s important to find out whether your bed is to blame for your back soreness or not.

What Makes a Good Mattress?

Obviously, not all beds are created equally when it comes to back pain (learn why). In general, there is no specific type or brand of mattress that is better than another. The perfect mattress is a matter of personal preference, but some innate properties must exist for that mattress to be healthy for your delicate back.

Here are the top 3 things to look at when shopping for or analyzing mattress quality:

  • The bed needs to be supportive of your entire body when it is in a neutral position with proper spinal alignment.
  • It must not be too firm, lest it pushes on the main pressure points of your spine.
  • It must not be too soft, lest it leaves your pressure points unsupported while creating spinal curvature.

According to experts at the UCLA Medical Center, a mattress that does not fit into the “Goldilocks Zone” of firmness and softness can lead to serious back discomfort in the morning – the type that could ultimately turn into a chronic problem.

It’s better to figure it out now than to be sorry in the months and years to come as you develop a more serious issue.

Discovering the Truth about Your Mattress

You may be in love with your bed, but that doesn’t mean it is in love with you back. Research has discovered numerous signs which indicate that a person’s bed is to blame for their back soreness, especially in the morning. Pay close attention to how you or your partner behaves throughout the night. If you have any of the following sleep-disturbing signs, it may be time to replace your mattress.

  • You wake up frequently during the night for no apparent reason.
  • You toss and turn a lot or can’t get comfortable.
  • You feel increased pressure on parts of your body when laying in certain positions.
  • You feel “swallowed up” by your bed.
  • Your bed feels flat and unforgiving on the curves of your body.
  • Your waking back pain goes away after about 20-30 minutes.

Back pain can be caused by several things, but if your bed is to blame then it should be very easy to tell. Your back pain may not be caused by something serious. In fact, studies show that about 56% of people who sleep on a medium-to-firm mattress have less back pain in the morning than their softer-mattress-having counterparts.

Soft Bed or Hard Bed for Back Pain?

Study Gets Mixed Results, but More Find Soft Bed Slightly Better for Back Pain

April 3, 2008 — If Goldilocks had lower back pain, she’d still prefer the bed that was just right.

It’s one of the most common questions back pain patients ask. Which is better — Daddy Bear’s hard mattress or Mommy Bear’s soft one?

Kim Bergholdt, DC, of Denmark’s Funen Back Center, and colleagues tried to find an answer. They randomly assigned 160 patients with lower back pain to sleep in one of three beds for one month.

When the truck pulled up to the patients’ houses, it delivered either a hard futon, a water bed (Akva brand), or a body-conforming foam mattress (Tempur brand). Akva and Tempur sponsored the study, although Innovation Futon provided the harder beds.

Unfortunately, many of the patients assigned to the water bed never started the study — they did not want to sleep on a water bed. And many of the patients assigned to the futon quit the study before it was over.

The large number of dropouts — and the failure to stratify the patients according to the cause of their back pain — makes the study hard to interpret, says Robert Molinari, MD, associate professor of orthopaedics at the University of Rochester Medical Center.

Among patients who did finish the study, slightly more preferred the water bed or the body-contour mattress over the hard futon. Even so, there were patients who said they felt better after sleeping on the hard bed as well as patients who said they felt worse after sleeping on the softer beds.

That’s no surprise to Molinari.

"We really don’t understand why, but some patients respond better to hard mattresses and some to soft ones," Molinari tells WebMD. "There are very few studies lending support to one mattress over another."

So what does Molinari recommend? Exactly the same method Goldilocks used — trial and error — to find the bed that’s just right.

The Bergholdt study appears in the April 1 issue of the journalSpine.

Sources

Bergholdt, K.Spine, April 1, 2008; vol 33: pp 703-708.

3 Signs Your Mattress Is Too Soft

Plus how to pick the perfect replacement, according to a spine surgeon.

There’s nothing quite like sinking into bed after a long day. But if you’reliterallysinking into your bed, it might be a time for a new mattress, says Richard Guyer, MD, an orthopedic surgeon and cofounder of the Texas Back Institute.

Your spine has a natural S-curve, he explains, with the lower back curving inward, and the upper back curving out: "If you lay down on a very, very soft bed, the curve is not supported and you lay like you’re in a hammock. I call it the banana position.” While the banana position feels oh-so-good when you’re chillaxing, it’s not the way you want to sleep all night, says Dr. Guyer.

So how do you know if your mattress is firmenough? “It’s one of those black box areas that we as consumers don’t know much about," says Dr. Guyer. But there are a few telltale signs that you’re not getting the support you need: 1) There’s a dent in your mattress in the morning. 2) You’re draggy throughout the day, because you’re not getting quality sleep at night. 3) You feel soreness in your back in the A.M. (Your too-soft mattress may not necessarily be the cause of the pain, Dr. Guyer points out; but it can certainly make back pain worse.)

If any of these signs are true for you and you’re ready to invest in a better mattress, Dr. Guyer has a few shopping tips.

Buy a reputable brand, but skip the top of the line

Mattresses from the priciest brands usually have too much padding, Dr. Guyer explains. Many are sold with a "pillow top" that can be so thick it’s almost like having no support at all, he says.

Choose a firmness rating of 4

Brands typically grade their mattresses from 1 to 5, with 1 being the softest and 5 being the firmest. Dr. Guyer suggests that his patients choose a 4, which should be juuust right.

Memory foam is a good option if you’re a fan

Mattresses made from this cushy polyurethane material aren’t for everyone. But if you like the feel, Dr. Guyer recommends memory foam because it contours to your natural anatomy, allowing an impression of your thoracic spine and lower pelvis while also supporting the rest of your back.

How to Tell if Your Mattress is Causing You Back Pain

When back pain comes about suddenly, it can be both inconvenient and confusing. What is causing your back pain if you haven’t changed anything in your daily schedule? The answer may lie in your mattress.

How to Tell if Your Mattress is Giving You Back Pain

There are so many causes of back pain, so it can be hard to pinpoint where your aches are coming from. However, there are some clues to look out for to see if your mattress is to blame. The first clue is when your back pain occurs. If your back pain is there when you first wake up, but you can stretch to get rid of it within 15-30 minutes, then that is a major sign that your mattress is doing more harm than good. Also, if you find yourself waking up more frequently or are tossing and turning trying to get to sleep, then that should also be a sign. Even if you are not prone to back pain, you should ideally replace your mattress every eight years.

How to Pick a Good Mattress for Your Back

Every one has different sleep preferences, which can make it hard to find the perfect mattress. Look for one that is not too firm or too soft. If the mattress is too firm, it will push on your pressure points and cause misalignment. Similarly, if the bed is too soft, it will allow your body to sink into the bed causing bad posture while you sleep, which can then lead to pain. The right mattress should make you feel like you are floating on air.

Financial times might be tough at the moment, but one should consider in investing in a good mattress. Think about it, you should be spending 7-9 hours on your mattress each night, which makes it an important piece of furniture. You want to invest in something that will give you better sleep and less pain, instead of going frugal and buying a mattress that is not right for your body.

Should You Get an Adjustment?

It is a very wise idea to get a wellness adjustment from your chiropractor before you go mattress shopping. This can help relieve pain and help you have better posture and body support while you sleep. Ask your chiropractor for advice on sleeping positions, as well as recommendations for mattresses. Not only is your chiropractor a back expert, but he has probably heard a lot of recommendations from his patients who suffered from mattress-induced back pain.

What Else Can I Do For Back Pain?

Changing your mattress will most likely do wonders for your back pain, if that was the cause. You can also implement a short stretching routine into your day. Aim to do a few stretches before you go to bed and after you wake up to help with spine flexibility. Also, it is important to learn how to sleep in the best position possible. Many experts recommend sleeping on your side with a pillow between your legs to support the hips and lower back. Certain pillows can also help promote less neck and back pain while you sleep.

For sweeter dreams and less back pain in the morning, consider getting a new mattress. Your sleep is essential, so make sure you are getting a mattress that will improve your sleep, not make it worse. When mattress shopping, bring your own pillow and spend a good ten to fifteen minutes on each mattress. It may seem silly, but it is the best way to ensure you get the right mattress for you.

Remember to always consult your chiropractor before taking any health advice.

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