How can a memory foam mattress help with back pain?
Originally developed by NASA scientists as a multipurpose material for astronauts, memory foam is a visco-elastic material which changes shape under heat and pressure. This allows it to mould to the contours of your body, then return to its original shape when not in use. A memory foam mattress doesn't use coiled springs: all the support is provided by the visco-elastic foam. This gives them an especially soft texture and allows them to cradle the body very effectively, reducing pressure on the hips and joints while keeping the spine in alignment. As a result, many people find that a memory foam style is the best mattress for a bad back.
Our memory foam mattresses are also available in a huge choice of sizes, thicknesses and comfort levels, making it easy to find something that suits your needs. To learn more about the science behind our memory foam mattresses, including how their antibacterial properties can benefit sleepers with allergies, check out our guide to memory foam.
Which is better for back pain: memory foam or sprung mattresses?
Unlike traditional sprung mattresses, memory foam shapes itself to fit the contours of the body, rather than just the major pressure points like the hips, knees and neck. This reduces the pressure on these areas, and helps to keep the spine in a natural alignment. So, they can be very comfortable and effective for those with chronic back problems.
On the other hand, traditional coiled mattresses do provide effective weight distribution, which can make them a good option for taller or heavier individuals. Pocket sprung mattresses are especially effective at this, because the individual springs can move independently, allowing them to better follow the contours of the body than traditional open coil styles. So, ultimately, the best mattress for a bad back really depends on your build and sleeping style.
If you like the sound of both benefits, then a mattress which utilises both pocket springs and a layer of memory foam, like our hybrid mattresses and Octaspring hybrid mattresses, could be the best solution for you.
How does the firmness of a mattress affect back pain?
When we talk about the firmness of a mattress, we’re generally referring to the level of tension in the springs or memory foam. This tension will dictate what level of resistance and support the mattress provides, which can affect our spinal alignment during sleep. In other words, if your mattress is too hard or soft, it won't support you the way it needs to, meaning a mattress with the wrong tension level for your preferred sleep posture could exacerbate your back pain.
Traditionally, doctors and physical therapists have recommended a firmer mattress for those with back problems, but new evidence suggests that this may no longer be the best option. A recent study found that participants with back problems reported less pain after sleeping on a medium-firm mattress, rather than a firm one, according to WebMD.
The level of tension you will need will also depend on your preferred sleeping position — you can find out which tension level is best for your natural sleeping posture in our mattress buying guide. We also describe the differences between soft, medium and firm mattresses in more detail in our mattress firmness guide. Plus, all of our mattresses are given a Comfort Grade rating, so it’s easy to see whether they’re soft, medium, firm or somewhere in-between.
In many cases the right mattress can help to alleviate back pain. A good mattress will distribute your weight evenly, supporting the spine and allowing your muscles to fully relax, which in turn will help to relieve back pain and help you get a great night's sleep.
If you suffer from chronic back pain, the wrong mattress can aggravate the problem. One that's too soft or too firm can cause the spine to move out of the correct alignment, meaning you wake up feeling sore. The discomfort can also make you toss and turn through the night, meaning you don’t get the sleep you need. As many back problems require adequate rest to heal properly, this can delay your recovery, triggering a repetitive cycle of sleeplessness and pain.
A high-quality mattress that properly supports the spine and allows for good sleeping posture can help to break the cycle, restoring your sleeping pattern and helping you to feel comfortable, both at night and during the day.