Finding the Right Mattress for Your Sore Back

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You’ve spent another morning stretching out your back, popping upper and lower back at all these strange angles.  Twisting in front of the coffee maker, pulling your shoulders back and forth just trying to stretch out the pain…Why is it there?  Is it age?  Is it how you slept?  Most likely it is the mattress you slept on.  In today’s entry, we will explore the choices of Soft Mattress, Medium Mattress, and Firm Mattress.  Everyone has a preference, but is it the right preference for their needs?

Many mattress sale people will tell you that a firm mattress is what you need for your bad back.  “It’s all about supporting the back and keeping it straight, that’s how you wake up pain-free,” that’s the most common mantra in our industry.  Unfortunately, it’s scientifically not correct.  Studies have been done on proper back alignment during sleep by Universities, Chiropractor Organizations, and mattress manufacturers.  To understand the need for support, we must first explore the spine and its function.

Your spine has three gentle curves, the Cervical curve – which supports the head, the Thoracic, which supports the middle of your body, and the Lumbar which supports the foundation of your back.  It is important to keep these curves aligned otherwise you may be asking for chronic back pain.

Back pain is caused malaligned posture, the spinal curves bending in the wrong direction for prolonged periods.  When the tissues of your spine are forced and held into awkward positions there are issues with oxygen starvation to tissues, pinching is possible, and nerve compression can occur. These are all reasons why you instinctively respond to your morning discomfort by stretching, bending, and twisting your spine “back into place”.

A lot of this back pain/soreness will be eliminated by purchasing a proper supportive mattress.  Since you are on your bed for prolonged periods of time, you can easily see why having the right support for your body type is of utmost importance.  Your consideration of support and comfort should always outweigh Sale Price and Discount availability.  Although a warning to all; Price does not always determine quality.  Construction is what holds the key to your comfort and support.

Mattress construction is near infinite in its options.  Different materials in the foam, springs, and even the foundation make huge differences in the support provided. No one construction is right for all body types.  Every different body type requires different support areas to hold the curves on one’s spine in position.

There are three standard levels of support available for mattresses.

  1. Firm– the most supportive of the levels.  Most Stomach Sleepers should stick to this level of support.  Your spine requires a strong support to hold you upright and keep you from sinking into the mattress causing stress on your spinal discs, the spongey areas between your vertebrae.
  2. Medium – the middle of the road support level.  Good support for most back sleepers.  This level of support allows for spine support and some allowance for flex.  Is not the best for lumbar support, as this is the heaviest portion of your body and the lighter foam layer of a Medium mattress allows for too much sink to keep your curve in proper alignment. This is a good choice for a lot of side sleepers.  The additional softness allows for support of spine and just enough sink for your shoulders into the mattress to keep the spine aligned.
  3. Soft – the most common mattress asked for initially by mattress shoppers.  Initial thought for most shoppers is that soft is necessary to facilitate sleep.  What they don’t consider is spinal flex and support.  Soft is not recommended for any stomach sleepers, the extra lumbar support is not there, and is not part of the design at this level of support.  Soft is often a great choice for side sleepers.  A wider hip body type adjusts well to a softer support level, as does a wider shoulder build.  Soft is also a great choice for those that sleep in a fetal or near fetal position as it allows a nesting feel during sleep.

As your shopping for a new mattress consider your sleep position, your comfort level of choice, and your spinal alignment.  All three factors being met will result in better sleep and a better waking in the morning.  Take your time on the mattress you are are trying.  You should not feel or be rushed in any way.  Your initial feel of any mattress will be that it is fantastic (compared to what you currently have).  Instead of going with that initial feeling, give it time.  Examine how your body is aligned, your sleep expert or salesperson should be able to tell you if it is helping your sleep posture.

Do spend time on each mattress, Do not rush your buying process.  You won’t be sorry you spent extra time trying out different support levels, how could you be?  Mattresses are wonderful!

Here are a few more blogs that’ll help you find the right mattress for your needs:

Does a “Name Brand” Make Better Mattresses?

Foam vs Springs and the Importance of Sex

The Cheap Mattress

Mattress Foundations and Bed Height

What is Proper Back Support?

About the author:

Javier is the owner of the Sleep Well, a professionally trained sleep store, specializing in specific mattresses for specific needs. He lives to give. He is an active member of his community and church. His hard work and efforts pay off for him when he can help others, and give to efforts for the betterment of others.
His spare time is spent with his beautiful wife, Gretchen. They are craft beer hobbyists who enjoy making their own beers, visiting small breweries, and making new friends. Their lives revolve around church, family, exercising, four great dogs, and keeping up with their home in Alamogordo NM.