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Spine Surgeon’s Tips to Selecting the Best Mattress for Your Back

Authored by Dr. Ehsan Jazini, MD, FACS, Lindsay Orosz, PA-C, MPAS. March 17, 2021

It’s Sleep Awareness Week, and one crucial way to properly honor this event is to make sure your mattress is working for YOU and not exacerbating your back pain. It is not common that a mattress of any kind can help or improve back pain, but rather the goal should be to find a mattress that does not create back pain and one that does not worsen existing back pain.  The best way to avoid this is to maintain the spine’s natural alignment while in bed.  The spine is made up of several curves that need to be supported; for example, the swayback in our low back region called, “lordosis.”  For some people, a soft mattress may support their body type best.  For instance, a thin individual may have this preference.  For individuals that carry more weight, they need to identify where their pressure points are when they lay down and avoid a mattress that adds extra pressure to those areas during sleep. So where do we begin the search for the ‘Perfect Mattress’ for our backs?

What should a person with back pain look for when purchasing a new mattress? 

There are a few items to consider when purchasing a new mattress, and this is useful for people with or without back pain.  However the ramifications of choosing the wrong mattress are magnified for those that suffer from back pain, so this thorough process is designed with back pain patients in mind. 

First, take the time to go to at least one (if not more) store where you can lay on different types of mattresses.  This allows you to try a variety of brands, different materials, and levels of firmness.  Even if you have a preference, try the range from soft to very firms to allow your body to feel the difference.  Do you like the feel of foam, springs, latex, or air chambers?  Do you like a mattress topper?  Do you like cooling materials?  If you find a few that you like, take a picture with your phone of the bed and the description that has all of the information you need.  

Next, I recommend going to the internet and doing some research, which will be more meaningful now that you’ve been to the store.  The mattress options are really endless, so reading reviews can be helpful.  You can also find lists with the top mattress for any given year, or best mattresses for back pain,  which can serve as a guide and help with price ranges.  Compare that to the pictures you took at the store to narrow down your options.

Last, and most important, make sure that whatever mattress you choose has a return policy.  You won’t truly know how your back does on a new mattress until you’ve slept on it for at least a week.  Having that 30 day, 60 day, or 90 day return policy is key.  If you are not happy, not getting a good night’s sleep, or if pain worsens after a week, then send it back!

Are firmer mattresses better for people with back pain? 

Generally, back pain patients prefer mattresses on the firmer end of the spectrum, but everyone is different so I would not choose that just because others do.  The size of the person and their weight plays a big role here as well.  A common choice for those that have back pain and need the extra support but actually prefer a soft mattress is a firm mattress with a soft pillow top.  There are many hybrid options to choose from.  Just remember this is a personal choice, not a one size fits all situation.

How often should people with back pain replace their mattresses?

Remember, a good mattress is not a cure for back pain if you have spinal pathologies.  However, you don’t want your mattress to worsen your pain either.  Keep in mind that general recommendations are to replace mattresses every 6-8 years.  This depends on the quality of the mattress, your size/weight, and the wear and tear that can come from things like a move, jumping kids, or pets for example.

If you are experiencing prolonged back pain and are looking to get to the root of this discomfort, schedule a stress-free consultation with me to better understand your options to get back to a pain-free life! Call us today at 703.709.1114.

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