There are quite a few common (but inaccurate) myths in the mattress industry. Sadly a lot of people, as I have come to realise, still believe a fair number of them.
Often this is due to clever marketing from the mattress companies themselves. But it doesn’t have to be like that. I have created this article to show you that suffering from a bad back doesn’t have to mean buying a specific type or brand of mattress.
I’ve tried below to also decipher a lot of the mumbo-jumbo that is commonplace in the mattress industry in the UK. One thing to be aware of: I am not a chiropractor or expert on back pain but these observations that I have made are in tune with the same recommendations that the Sleep Council make. If you have any questions please let your name in the comments at the bottom, and I will try to help each and every one of you.
The Best Mattresses for Back Pains today
Here is my summary of the very best mattress features for those with back issues and/or ongoing pain in their spine:
- Mattresses should be relatively firm, but not too firm nor too soft.
- The lighter you are, the more likely it is that you will need a softer mattress. If you are heavier, you will need a firmer mattress.
- Try to get a mattress with a long trial period, to suit your needs if possible. Some now offer a 365-night trial.
- If you’re buying in a shop, don’t go shopping when you’re very tired. All the mattresses will feel nice, even the really hard ones!
Below I will clarify the above points further for you, to make sure that you are clear on what it means. As always, I must state that if you have severe back issues then speaking to a licensed professional is a good idea, such as a chiropractor or even your GP.
But how do you actually choose the right mattress for back issues…?
Quite simply: choosing the right mattress can minimise (or even prevent) the factors that may lead to, or aggravate, back pain. Too rigid a back will mean your body isn’t relaxed. Too slouchy and you’ll be sleeping with a bent spine.
And don’t assume that a memory foam mattress is softer / more slouchy than a pocket spring mattress because that’s not always the case.
Research by the British Chiropractic Association showed that of those experiencing back pain, 41% of women and 36% of men said that their pain could be brought on by a night’s so-called ‘rest’. That suggests to me that a bad matterss can exacerbate the problen, rather than solve it. Remember that we all come in different weights, shapes and sizes, but have one thing in common — we (mostly) spend more than a third of our lives in bed, so should choose our beds carefully. Which is better, a hard or soft mattress?
It sounds obvious, but the best mattress is a ‘supportive one’. A 16 stone person sleeping on a mattress may not get the same support as a 10 stone person sleeping on the same mattress.
How do you know which is the right mattress for your back pain? If you are lying on your side and are a side-sleeper, your spine should be parallel to the mattress and your spine should not sag (if so, the mattress is too soft). If it bows then the mattress might be too hard.
The longer you can spend lying on a mattress before you buy it, the more accurate this feeling will be. Your pillow should be an extension of this i.e. your neck should be a continuation of the straight spine and not too high or too low, I will cover that later.
How long should I trial a mattress for?
Nowadays with the advent of mattress-in-a-box companies everywhere, most of them are online-only. So actually physically testing the product might be difficult. Note that a handful of mattress brands such as Simba Sleep do have concessions in some John Lewis stores, meaning you can try out the mattress there in the shop itself.
But for the most part, the majority of brands like OTTY or Emma Mattress do not offer any sort of physical testing beforehand, so you will need to rely on their 100 night trials – there are even some companies that offer 365-night trials now. Note that there are occasionally some issues with these trials, but for the most part they do exactly what they say on the tin – if the mattress isn’t right for you, then they will take it off your hands, give you a refund, and then likely recycle the mattress (or give it away to charity).
What about an “orthopaedic mattress”?
According to the Sleep Council, the term “orthopaedic” doesn’t really mean much. An orthopaedic mattress generally means that – according to the manufacturer anyway – the mattress may be in the firm side. It is meant for those with back issues but it’s an unregulated term open to interpretation. In other words, there is no standard definition of what makes up an orthopedic mattress.
Not everyone, however, is convinced. “I have often wondered what the word orthopaedic means in the context of buying a bed,” says Steve Krikler, a senior consultant orthopaedic surgeon based in Coventry.
‘Most of the terminology is impressive-sounding jargon to persuade you to part with your hard-earned cash, without any real evidence. A bad mattress can exacerbate back pain…’
So how firm are orthopaedic mattresses?
Orthopaedic mattresses are generally rated firm or extra firm. This additional firmness allows your body weight to be more evenly distributed across the mattress, relieving painful pressure points while maintaining a natural spinal alignment. Mattresses with orthopaedic support help reduce pain, improve sleep quality, and decrease stress levels. Orthopaedic mattresses aren’t restricted to being used by those with back and joint pain, either.
An orthopaedic mattress is also a suitable choice for users who simply prefer the supportive feel of firm mattresses. Some companies also offer orthopaedic bed mattresses with medium firmness levels. These medium orthopaedic mattresses are suitable for users who require additional comfort and cushion layers alongside back support to help them get to sleep.
Opting for a more expensive make such as a Dormeo might be an idea, but make sure you research first.
What if I am lighter/heavier than my partner?
This is a common issue, but there are thankfully now some companies in the UK making split or customisable mattresses. This allows you to pick a ‘firm’ and ‘soft’ side – for the SAME mattress! It’s actually really affordable too despite what you may think; a Nrem mattress for example starts at £399 for the single.
There are also zip together beds, also knowsn as a zip-and-link.
One final complication to consider is to analyse the way you sleep. It can also affect the firmness of the mattress that you need, for example if you sleep on your side, you need to look for a slightly softer mattress than someone who sleeps on their back. This is because side sleepers put extra pressure on their shoulders and hips, so don’t generally want a very firm mattress.
How do I sleep longer if I have back pain?
- The most important lesson to take away from this article, is try to adopt a sleeping position which creates less physical stress on the back. For example, lying on your side is better than lying on your front with your neck twisted to one side.
- Keep moving and avoid being in any one position for too long. No matter how comfy the position may initially feel, the longer you stay in one position, the more this will ‘load joints’. If your partner moves around a lot at night, try separate beds for a while as your partner’s movement could aggravate YOUR back condition!
- Drink water. Keep well hydrated; dehydration can make muscles ache.
- Don’t leap out of bed first thing in the morning. After you have woken up wake up, try some gentle stretches.