The wrong mattress can actually contribute to back discomfort instead of offering restful nighttime relief. If you have a bad back, you can't look to a single type of mattress as the best choice for your back pain. Several discriminating factors, such as the quality, construction and makeup of the mattress, as well as your sleeping posture, body composition and personal preference play significant roles in determining the optimum mattress for your bad back.
A good mattress provides the right support for your height, weight, body build and preferred sleeping posture. When you lay on a mattress, it should remain supportive while molding to the shape of your body, and, if you are a side sleeper, your spine should remain horizontal, without sagging. Choose a mattress with a level of firmness -- soft, medium or firm -- to best accommodate your normal sleeping position and bad back. For example, if you typically sleep on your back, the pressure on your body is fairly evenly distributed, making a medium or firm mattress a good option. Because side sleepers create pressure points on the shoulders and hips, a medium or soft mattress offers a more comfortable night's sleep. A slightly firm mattress is a good option if you sleep on your stomach or front; however, an extremely firm mattress can put undue pressure on the knees, while a soft mattress can cause you to sink too far into the mattress and possibly create breathing or neck alignment issues.
Even though innerspring mattresses can provide initial comfort and back pain relief, they often sag in the middle over time, making them uncomfortable and definitely not back-friendly in their damaged condition. Spring mattresses that are zoned across the middle provide extra support for heavier shoulders and hips. The actual spring construction, number of coils and the thickness and height of the wire contribute to the feel of the mattress, as well as how the mattress distributes your body weight over its surface. Although old proverbs say that a firmer mattress is better for an aching back, that's not always the case. It's important that any type of spring mattress supply the necessary underlying back support, with the degree of firmness a personal decision based on the comfort it provides to your ailing back.
Memory-foam beds are a good option for preventing or reducing back pain. The memory foam conforms to your body shape, especially higher density foam, and offers a variety of firmness levels, including soft, medium and firm support. Even though a latex-foam mattress can also help to reduce and prevent back pain, it doesn't conform to your body as well as memory foam; however, it provides medium to firm levels of support. A gel mattress is a type of foam that contains gel in the support system, offering cooling thermo-regulating properties. If you need an extra layer of softness for your back, a pillow-top mattress has a soft layer of fiber or foam materials that is actually sewn into the top of a mattress.
Keep It Personal
Because mattress comfort is subjective, especially if you have a bad back, visit a local furniture or mattress store to "test drive" a variety of mattresses. Wear comfortable clothes to the store; remove your shoes and jacket; and lie down on several different mattresses in your usual sleeping position for at least 10 minutes each to determine which feels better. It's your personal preference that ultimately determines which mattress is the best for your back. Just because a mattress is labeled as "orthopedic" doesn't necessarily mean it is recommended by doctors or other professionals; the term is often used to simply describe extra-firm models, which may not be the best choice for your bad back.