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Your Old Mattress Can Cause Back Pain. Here's How to Pick a New One

If your back hurts regularly, make sure your next mattress has these three key details.

Taylor Leamey Senior Writer
Taylor Leamey writes about all things wellness, specializing in mental health, sleep and nutrition coverage. She has invested hundreds of hours into studying and researching sleep and holds a Certified Sleep Science Coach certification from the Spencer Institute. Not to mention the years she spent studying mental health fundamentals while earning her bachelor's degrees in both Psychology and Sociology. She is also a Certified Stress Management Coach.
Expertise Sleep, Mental Health, Nutrition and Supplements Credentials
  • Certified Sleep Science Coach, Certified Stress Management Coach
Taylor Leamey
4 min read
Older man stretching his arms out while struggling with back pain while sleeping.
Filmstax/Getty Images

When you're living with back pain, it can feel impossible to get comfortable and fall asleep. Sometimes it feels like no matter how you toss or turn, there is no relief. It's not a minor inconvenience: Sleep deprivation can have serious impacts on your long-term health

Sometimes, your old mattress is the culprit behind your back pain. No matter how good your mattress was when you bought it, it has a lifespan of about eight years. Once you pass that time, your mattress will stop giving you what you need. It may start to sag in places, compromising its ability to support you while you sleep.

What are the common causes of back pain?

Back pain is one of the most common injuries in the United States. It can come in many forms, varying from general soreness to shooting pain and numbness or even radiating down the legs. There is no one-fits-all type of back pain. 

The common causes of back pain include but are not limited to:

  • Muscle strains
  • Arthritis
  • Ruptured or herniated spinal discs
  • Spinal stenosis
  • Scoliosis 
  • Fibromyalgia 
  • Endometriosis 

For most people, home remedies like stretching and building strength with low-impact exercises can help alleviate back pain. Your mattress is often one of the first places you should assess for causes of your back pain. An old, worn-out mattress can be the source of a stiff or sore back. 

Not just any mattress will do when it comes to relieving back pain. There are three main things you should watch for.  

3 things your mattress for back pains should have

1. The right firmness level

It's easy to assume that if you're in pain, you should sleep on an extremely soft mattress that can provide plenty of cushions. But a mattress that's too soft can worsen your back pain since it won't support proper spinal alignment. 

Your spine should be in a neutral position to minimize back pain. Sleeping on a mattress that's too soft allows you to sink in too far, causing your spine to be out of alignment. On the other side of the scale are extra firm mattresses, which can cause your back pain to flare up with other pressure points around the hips, knees and shoulders.  

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Another important factor to consider is your weight when buying a mattress. Your weight can influence how a mattress feels when you lay on it. Petite body types will put less pressure on a mattress, which means the mattress will feel firmer. This means people under 150 pounds should stay on the lower end of firmness to ensure they get the right balance of pressure relief and support. Heavier body types will find that mattresses feel softer. Going for a firmer mattress is a good idea to ensure you don't sink too far in. 

Experts say that the best firmness for back pain is a medium-firm to firm mattress. 

2. The right construction

What your mattress is made of is important when it comes to relieving back pain. Generally, hybrid mattresses -- which combine foam layers and coils -- are the best choice if you sleep with back pain. 

Foam mattresses aren't bad; some people swear by them. However, they can be prone to sagging or indentations, aggravating symptoms over time. Hybrid mattresses are more durable, though more costly. However, the coil layer ensures you get the proper support for your back while you sleep. 

3. Special features for back pain

While it's not strictly necessary for a mattress for back pain to have special features, some people find they're nice to have, especially if you live with severe back pain that needs more intervention. 

One of the most popular features favored by those with back pain is intentional ergonomic design. Some examples of this are lumbar support or zoned support. Zoned support means a mattress has multiple firmness levels across the surface of the mattress. It's softer in areas you need, like your shoulder and neck, and firmer around your back to make sure your spine stays aligned. Only a handful of mattresses have zoned support, Casper and Purple being two examples. 

Another special feature that may be worth it for people with back pain is being able to adjust the bed. An adjustable bed frame can take the pressure off your spine and help you get in a position that relieves pain. 

Too long; didn't read?

Mattresses are expensive, and if you're not in a place to buy a new one right now, that doesn't mean you have to live with back pain. In the meantime, you can invest in a firmer mattress topper to give your bed the support it needs to align your spine. Alternatively, if your mattress is too firm, you can get a softer topper to relieve pressure. 

Or you can supplement your current sleep setup with pillows under your knees or between your legs to help you ease the pain. Sleeping with a pillow under your knees can help maintain the normal curve of your lower back and redistribute weight.

The information contained in this article is for educational and informational purposes only and is not intended as health or medical advice. Always consult a physician or other qualified health provider regarding any questions you may have about a medical condition or health objectives.