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6 tips for choosing a mattress for back pain relief and support

6 tips for choosing a mattress for back pain relief and support
(Image credit: Getty)

Good sleep is vital for our health, and one way to ensure a higher chance of getting your recommended hours is to pick the best mattress for your sleep position. That’s doubly important if you’re suffering from a bad back, and may even lead you to wonder if there’s such a thing as a specific mattress for back pain. The American Association of Chiropractors estimates that up to 80% of Americans suffer from back pain at some point, and while some of this is an inevitable part of life and aging, some of it can also be avoided by investing in a great bed.

With so many claiming to relieve pressure and reduce pain, how do you know which one to buy? Well, there are specific features to look for when shopping mattresses for back pain, starting with proper support, pressure relief and spinal alignment during sleep. Lack of support only reinforces poor sleep posture and puts extra strain on your muscles, which could make your back pain worse. And when your spine isn’t aligned properly during sleep, you could end up with lower back pain. 

In terms of material, memory foam is popular among mattresses for back pain, as this type of foam almost cradles your body to produce a pretty weightless feel during sleep. As we explain in our guide to the best Saatva mattress discounts and deals, Saatva is our top pick of mattresses for back pain relief, and the brand is approved by the American Association of Chiropractors too. The Purple Hybrid Mattress is another good choice, thanks to its Grid Technology that reduces pressure on your hips, waist and back, and there’s often a Purple mattress deal to be had on it, making it even cheaper.

Ultimately, finding a mattress for back pain relief and back support comes down to your personal preference, but here are our top tips on what to look out for… 

1. Forget the ‘one type fits all’ approach

Let’s get the harsh truth out of the way: there is no single mattress that works for every single person experiencing back pain. Why not? Because each of us has different support requirements and comfort preferences during sleep. That’s also the reason why many couples often squabble when choosing a new bed, as what feels right for your back may feel too firm or too soft for your partner.

There are also many causes of upper and lower back pain, so we’d recommend speaking to your doctor about what could be causing yours, and to get their tips on how to relieve it. They may even suggest ways to relax your body before you go to sleep. For example, some people enjoy using a handheld massager to ease muscle tension and soreness.

An image showing a mattress covered with white sheets and topped with pillows in white pillow cases, all sat next to a green plant in a clear jar

(Image credit: Getty)

2. Prioritize support and comfort

Ultimately, you want the best of both worlds when choosing a mattress for back pain. Medium-firm types suit a majority of people, as they enable your shoulders and hips to sink in a little deeper, which creates more of a cradled yet weightless feel. Memory foam is a popular choice here. 

Firmer mattresses are also recommended for certain types of back pain, but if it’s too firm you could end up really pressing down on your various pressure points and causing more pain.

3. Pick pressure relieving materials

Not all mattresses for back pain are made in the same way. Some use memory foam, some have coils and springs, and others are made of natural materials. Each has pros and cons, but often it's down to personal preference. Latex is a natural material suited to most people who swap positions as they sleep – something which happens frequently when trying to get comfy with a bad back. 

Memory foam is excellent if you need extra pressure relief when sleeping on your side, as it promotes good spinal alignment while simultaneously cushioning your hips, knees and shoulders. And if you’re worried you might get too warm, rest assured that the new breed of memory foam means overheating is a thing of the past. So much so that some of the best cooling mattresses are made with foam.

If you need support for long term back pain, consider an innerspring model, which is a more traditional construction offering plenty of bounce. Try pairing it with one of the best bed toppers for added pressure relief.

4. Know your sleep position

Many beds are designed to ensure your spine, hips and neck are perfectly aligned. This is crucial if you suffer from back pain, as throwing your spine out of alignment can make pain and discomfort worse. If you tend to sleep mainly on your stomach or side, your first step is to look for beds designed for your specific sleep position. For instance, stomach sleepers tend to require more support to keep their spine aligned, so you might want to try out a firmer mattress. 

Side sleepers often need more pressure relief because their hips, knees and shoulders dig into the mattress most. Back sleepers would benefit from a medium-firm mattress that perfectly supports the spine in the most natural and aligned way.

A man wearing a white t-shirt lies on his stomach on a bed, smiling because he's enjoying a good nap

(Image credit: Getty)

The Casper Original Hybrid is a good choice for multiple sleep positions as it features dedicated ‘zones’ to ensure proper spinal alignment, with softer foam around the shoulders and firmer foam at the hips, waist and lower back. This makes it an ideal mattress for back pain if you tend to shift positions as you sleep. For the latest savings, read our guide to the best Casper mattress deals and discounts.

5. Opt for comfort layers and minimal motion transfer

Aptly named ‘comfort layers’ are a common feature with mattresses for back pain, and many opt for pillow-top or memory foam top comfort layers. If you have allergies, there are also plenty of natural options to choose from, with brands such as Avocado Green and Tuft and Needle offering natural, hypoallergenic options.

Finally, look out for mattresses that offer minimal motion transfer. This is especially useful if you are a different body weight to your sleep partner, or if they shift around as they snooze. Motion transfer reduces the chance of you waking, should the other person become restless.

6. Pay attention to the trial period and warranty

Most sleep brands offer generous trial periods now, so you can sleep on your mattress for at least 100 days before making up your mind. This is important as it takes at least a month to get used to a new bed anyway, let alone if you’re dealing with back pain, which needs extra care and attention. The last thing you want is for your bed to make your pain worse, so having a decent trial period will give you an idea of what things will be like in the coming months and years. 

Also, it goes without saying that if you’re resting on a surface for at least seven hours a night, 365 nights a year, there will eventually be wear and tear. While this is natural, the better the quality of mattress to start with, the longer it will support your back without you needing to replace it anytime soon.

Most new beds come with a warranty of up to ten years or longer. Saatva, for example, offers a fantastic 20-year guarantee on its dreamy all-latex Zenhaven. While the initial outlay on something like that might be higher, the guarantee is that it should last twice as long as the average, and avoid having to dispose of a mattress every few years. 

For further sleep content, read our guides to the best pillows and the best sound machines to help you drift off, and best sunrise alarm clocks to help you wake easier.