Beating Back Pain with a Memory Foam Mattress

Back pain is an epidemic in the US, with up to 85% of people experiencing back pain at some time in their lives and half of American workers reporting back pain in a given year1. Because so many people have back pain, quite a bit of money is spent on trying to solve it - up to $50 billion per year on doctors, workers’ comp, and lost wages, according to the National Institutes of Health2.

The causes of back pain are numerous, including occupational stress, health, lack of exercise, overexertion, posture, and even sleep position and mattresses.

Amerisleep guy with backpain

What Do Mattresses Have To Do With Back Pain?

We spend around one-third of each day in bed, ideally, so it makes sense that what we sleep on and how we sleep can have a considerable effect on our bodies. When your body is asleep, there are many processes occurring. The muscles of the back need to rest and the spinal column needs to decompress to resolve daytime tension. If your lower back is unsupported while sleeping, the muscles remain tense. Positions that do not preserve natural spinal alignment prevent decompression. These two factors together can contribute to back pain, and exacerbate daytime causes of pain.

Natural spinal alignment

Memory Foam Mattresses & Back Pain

A memory foam mattress allows a natural spinal alignment for your body

Memory foam material reacts in a way that differentiates it from other types of mattresses. It is called “visco-elastic” because has viscous traits that allow it to contour in response to temperature and pressure, and elastic because it returns to its original shape once pressure is removed. On a mattress, this viscosity allows the foam to contour to your natural body shape, rather than forcing your body to adjust. The full-body contouring also supports your lower back, allowing the muscles to fully relax and release tension.

In contrast, when sleeping on a firm innerspring bed, you can sometimes see or feel a space between your lower back and the mattress, meaning your lower back is not supported. Other types of beds like air mattresses and waterbeds can have the opposite effect; they may allow heavier areas like your hips to sink in further than the rest of your body. Referred to as “hammocking”, this creates an unnatural reverse spine curve since your upper body and legs are higher than your lower back.

Sleep position also plays a role in back pain relief and prevention. Sleeping on your back with a pillow beneath your knees, or on your side with a pillow between your knees, are considered the best positions for reducing pain, according to the Mayo Clinic. Stomach sleeping is considered the worst for back and neck pain, though it is recommend to place a pillow beneath the pelvis to reduce some of the strain3. Because memory foam contours to your shape, all types of sleepers can find comfort on memory foam, though side sleepers will need slightly thicker memory foam layers in order to cushion hips and shoulders.

Side, back, or a combination of both are the best sleeping positions for back pain

Choosing the Right Memory Foam Mattress for Back Pain Relief

If you are looking for a new mattress to relieve back pain, here are few points to keep in mind:

  • Medium-Firm mattresses tend to rate highest for pain relief in professional sleep studies.4
  • Consider your body shape, and make sure the upper layers (the actual memory foam) are deep enough to contour to you. 3-4 inches is good for most people; petite people may do well with 2-3 inches; larger people may be more comfortable with 5-6 inches.
  • Make sure the memory foam is dense enough to provide lasting support, but not so dense that firmness becomes an issue. The medium range between 4.0-5.5 lbs is often considered ideal for support and pressure relief.
  • An adjustable bed can also help with back pain relief, and partners well with memory foam. The “zero gravity” position in which knees are elevated slightly above your heart boosts circulation and helps decompress your lower back. Adjustable beds also have numerous other benefits such as making it easier to get in and out bed, and reducing acid reflux and sleep apnea symptoms.

Back pain can be a frustrating and debilitating thing to live with, but being conscious of your daytime activities, posture and sleep habits can all help reduce the symptoms and prevent future back pain. A memory foam mattress can help relieve back pain by facilitating natural alignment while providing full-body support and reducing pressure points. When seeking a memory foam mattress for back pain, look for a bed with medium to firm support capable of contouring to your shape, and don’t forget to take your personal preferences and sleep habits into consideration.

Steps to creating the perfect sleep for back pain

Resources:

1http://www.acatoday.org/pdf/back_pain.pdf

2http://www.ninds.nih.gov/disorders/backpain/detail_backpain.htm

3http://www.mayoclinic.com/health/sleeping-positions/LB00003_D

4http://www.webmd.com/back-pain/news/20031113/best-mattress-for-lower-back-pain

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