In 2010, back pain was ranked as the third-most “burdensome condition” in the U.S.—only heart disease from inadequate blood circulation and lung disease ranked higher. Back pain not only affects daytime productivity, but sleep quality as well.
A mattress can’t eradicate back pain, but the best memory foam mattresses can make living with back pain easier. In this article, we discuss how to find a high-quality mattress for back pain, why we recommend memory foam, and the best and worst sleeping positions for back pain. We also offer other tips for easing back pain and answer a few frequently asked questions.
Our Recommendation: Zoma Mattress
The first layer is 2 inches of gel memory foam with Triangulex™ technology for added breathability. Contouring triangular cutouts under the shoulders and legs are softer, while the mattress’s sturdy midsection lifts your back.
The second layer is 2 inches of Reactiv™. Reactiv™ is a responsive poly-foam that transitions between the top and bottom layers to prevent sinkage.
The third layer is 7 inches of durable Support+ foam. It supports the other two layers to deter sagging.
A breathable elastane-polyester cover encases the mattress.
A queen size Zoma Mattress is $750. Each Zoma Mattress includes a 100-night risk-free trial and a 10-year warranty. If at any point during the sleep trial you discover our mattress isn’t for you, we will pick it up and issue you a full refund.
About Back Pain
Back pain is a common affliction—about 80 percent of adults experience it at some point, with men and women equally likely to develop it.
Back pain can occur suddenly, be the result of improper lifting or an accident, or it can develop slowly because of an inactive lifestyle, poor posture, and age-related conditions such as arthritis.
The majority of back pain is short-term, lasting only a few days to a few weeks and fixing itself with minimal treatment. Chronic back pain is back pain that lasts more than 12 weeks, and sometimes the pain continues despite treatment.
If your back pain is accompanied by bowel problems, a fever, weight loss, pain in your legs, or weakness, speak with a doctor as soon as possible.
Why Memory Foam?
We recommend memory foam mattresses to soothe bad backs because the material offers everything that back pain sufferers need from a mattress: good support, pressure relief, and responsiveness without sinking.
As memory foam mattresses mold to your body, no part of you is left unsupported. When the material molds to your body it offers excellent pressure relief. What’s more, memory foam is available in all firmnesses—you’ll find soft mattresses you can sink into and firmer mattresses that still offer a conforming feel.
Pros of Memory Foam
What many owners find appealing about memory foam is its pressure-relieving ability. It leaves little to no space between the body and the mattress, and the material contours rather than presses against your body. This is how memory foam limits pressure build-up.
Memory foam also prevents motion transfer, which prevents a partner’s movements from jostling you and worsening your pain as you sleep. The material absorbs movement better than other types of mattresses.
What’s more, memory foam mattresses are one of the more affordable types of mattresses. You can find a quality memory foam mattress for under $1000.
Cons of Memory Foam
Traditional memory foam’s most well-known flaw is that it retains body heat, potentially disturbing sleep. Many manufacturers address this by adding cooling agents such as gels or copper, or by creating more breathable, plant-based foam.
Lower quality memory foams can lack the responsiveness needed to adapt to your movements, leaving you feeling “stuck” in the mattress. Higher quality foams regain their shape quicker, preventing this issue.
Most memory foam mattresses lack edge support, which can make it more difficult to move in and out of bed if you have chronic back pain. The firmer sides make it easier to shift to a sitting position before standing. Some memory foam mattresses do have edge support, however, and you can also make getting out of bed even easier by using your memory foam mattress with an adjustable base.
Best and Worst Sleeping Positions for Back Pain
The position you sleep in can alleviate your pain or make it worse. Every sleep position has a different firmness best suited to it, as your preferred position affects the support your spine needs.
Curling up on your side on a plush mattress alleviates herniated discs, because curving your torso increases the space between your vertebrae. If you sleep on your side, you might want to tuck a pillow between your knees to maintain good hip and spine posture. Resting your back against a firm body pillow can also reduce pain.
A memory foam mattress for side sleeping should have a soft to medium feel to let the hips and shoulders sink in—if they remain lifted on top of the mattress, your hips and shoulders can curve your spine out of alignment. You also risk waking up with hip or shoulder pain as pressure points build up on your side.
Back sleeping is one of the best positions to relieve back pain, as it brings your back in direct contact with the mattress. If you snore or have acid reflux, however, you might want to elevate your head with a wedge pillow or adjustable base.
Back sleepers can get a good night’s sleep on a medium-firm to firm mattress. To further ease low back pain, prop your knees up with a pillow to reduce pressure.
If you have back pain, we strongly recommend against sleeping on your stomach. Stomach sleeping can cause or amplify back pain, as the position overextends your spine when gravity pushes down on your stomach.
Stomach sleepers who can’t sleep in another position should look for a firm mattress to prevent sinkage. Keeping a pillow under your stomach while using a thin pillow under your head can further maintain spinal alignment.
Other Mattress Types
A memory foam mattress is our recommendation for back pain sufferers, but it might not be the best mattress for you. Your perfect mattress might be one of the other three main types: latex, innerspring, and hybrid.
Latex has a similar feel to memory foam, though it’s inherently firmer and more springy. Latex mattresses come in two types, natural and synthetic. Natural latex is made from rubber tree sap, while synthetic latex is made from organic chemical compounds.
Manufacturers process this rubber tree sap according to the Dunlop or Talalay method. The Talalay method requires extra steps and chemical additives, so it’s the more expensive option. Dunlop latex is firmer and the only 100 percent natural option.
We recommend natural latex over synthetic latex for its durability and feel, although a natural latex bed can be one of the more expensive types of mattresses. Some find the price fair, however, as a natural latex mattress can last up to 20 years.
An innerspring mattress has a support layer of coils sandwiched between foam and fabric cushioning. Innersprings are well known for their bounce and breathability since air can flow freely through and around the coils.
If you experience frequent back pain, we strongly advise against an innerspring mattress. An innerspring mattress cannot contour to meet your body’s curves, which leaves parts of your back unsupported. Innerspring coils also press up against your body, building up pressure points rather than relieving them. This lack of support and pressure relief can worsen pre existing back pain.
Innersprings are also the mattress type quickest to sag when their coils give out, which minimizes support and causes or exacerbates back problems.
Manufacturers designed hybrid mattresses to lessen the drawbacks of an innerspring and foam mattress. Sometimes the term is used as a marketing tactic—to qualify as a hybrid, the mattress must have a coil support setup and 2 to 3 inches of foam.
Hybrids offer a mix of pressure relief and bouncy support, letting it contour while remaining adaptable to your movements. The foam comfort layer molds to your body better than an innerspring, while the inner coils create a cooling mattress for hot sleepers.
Hybrid mattresses have the same problem with sagging as innersprings— the coils wear out in as little as 5 or 6 years.
A 2015 review found that a medium-firm mattress might be the best firmness option for alleviating and preventing back pain—however, that might not be the best option for you, as your ideal firmness depends on your body weight and sleeping position.
Your body affects how much you push down on a mattress, so your mattress’s firmness needs to be firm or soft enough to match the pressure. Petite sleepers under 130 pounds place less pressure on a mattress, so they need a soft mattress to mold to their body. A mattress for a heavy person over 230 pounds should have a firmer feel to withstand the extra pressure.
Companies determine a mattress’s firmness level with a 1-10 scale, with 1 being the softest mattress and 10 being the firmest. Most mattresses fall within the 3 to 8 range.
|Firmness Scale Rating||Firmness|
|2 and 3||Soft|
|7 and 8||Firm|
|9 and 10||Extra-firm|
Sleep Trial, Warranty, Return Policy
Buying a mattress with a sleep trial period and warranty gives you time to test out your mattress and the reassurance that a company will repair or replace a defective mattress. We strongly advise purchasing a mattress with both, although a 30-day return policy can substitute for a sleep trial if needed.
Sleep trials tend to last between 90 to 120 days to give customers plenty of time to try out a mattress at home. Online mattress companies popularized the sleep trial, but nowadays, you can find them attached to in-store mattresses as well. Many mattress companies ask that you try a new mattress for 30 days at least to give yourself time to adjust.
Warranties protect against defects such as cracks in the foam, sagging, or cover damage. A warranty can give you an idea of the mattress’s likely durability and craftsmanship—a high-quality mattress is less likely to sag, so the company will cover replacements, for example.
Many mattresses include a 10-year warranty, as per the industry standard. If your mattress has a shorter warranty, it may contain lower-quality materials.
If you put your mattress on the wrong foundation or stain it, you could void your warranty. Be sure to keep your bed on a good foundation for a memory foam mattress, and cover it in a quality mattress protector.
When reading through the return policy, you should look for the answers to these questions:
- How do I file a return? Some companies want a phone call, while others are fine with email.
- What condition does the mattress need to be in to be returned? Many companies won’t take back a damaged or stained mattress, while others won’t accept a mattress back once it’s been opened.
- Do you receive a full refund, or are there hidden fees such as shipping or restocking costs?
- How long do you have to make a return? 30-day return policies are common, but some companies offer as many as 60 days.
More Bed Accessories for Back Pain
An excellent memory foam mattress isn’t the only tool in the bedroom to relieve back pain. You may also want to consider a wedge pillow, mattress topper, or an adjustable bed frame.
One of the best pillows for back pain is a wedge pillow—although not for under your head. By keeping a wedge pillow under your knees with your legs hanging off the pillow’s short side, you reduce pressure on your lower back.
If your current mattress is in decent condition, just too soft or firm for your back, you can try supplementing it with a mattress topper. Toppers add an extra few inches of firm or soft foam to change a bed’s feel.
A topper can also smooth out a sagging mattress which can cause or contribute to back pain. However, a topper is not as effective at alleviating back pain as a new bed—consider it a temporary measure while you save up for your perfect mattress.
Adjustable bases let you sleep in a reclined position with your feet raised, which can alleviate pressure on your lower back. Some adjustable bed frames include massage features, which can offer short-term relief for lower back pain. The drawback of an adjustable base is its price—many cost more than $1000.
Other Ways to Reduce Back Pain
Avoid too much bed rest, and try to resume your normal day-to-day activities as soon as you can. Too much inactivity may worsen back pain and cause secondary conditions such as depression and blood clots to develop. Avoid strenuous movements that can worsen pain.
Applying heat and cold packs to your lower back can bring short-term relief and temporarily improve mobility. You can look into physical therapy to strengthen your back’s core muscle groups as a long-term solution.
Ask your doctor for more treatment options—if your pain is severe, they may be able to prescribe medication.
Surgery is rare and not always successful. It’s typically pursued as an option only when other therapies have failed, and there are signs of worsening nerve damage. Yes. Memory foam can meet the four curves of the spine, preventing strain from a lack of support. Its malleability is also why memory foam is one of the best mattresses for hip pain, arthritis, and other chronic pain conditions. We recommend memory foam mattresses that are 10 to 14 inches thick. Thinner mattresses tend to lack durability and give out within a few years. If you have an adjustable base, a mattress thicker than 14 inches won’t move with the base as a thinner mattress would. No. We strongly advise against keeping a box spring underneath a memory foam mattress, as the box spring’s inner coils are too far apart for consistent support. Instead, place your memory foam mattress on a solid or slatted surface— if your bed frame has slats, take care that the slats are no more than 3 inches apart to prevent your mattress from dipping in between the slats and losing support. The average memory foam mattress lasts around 7 to 8 years; with care, a high-quality memory foam bed can last 10 or more years. You can extend its lifespan by rotating it every three months and by cleaning your mattress frequently. To keep your mattress clean, change its bedding and vacuum it once a week. Clean it thoroughly every few months.
Frequently Asked Questions
Yes. Memory foam can meet the four curves of the spine, preventing strain from a lack of support. Its malleability is also why memory foam is one of the best mattresses for hip pain, arthritis, and other chronic pain conditions.
We recommend memory foam mattresses that are 10 to 14 inches thick. Thinner mattresses tend to lack durability and give out within a few years. If you have an adjustable base, a mattress thicker than 14 inches won’t move with the base as a thinner mattress would.
No. We strongly advise against keeping a box spring underneath a memory foam mattress, as the box spring’s inner coils are too far apart for consistent support. Instead, place your memory foam mattress on a solid or slatted surface— if your bed frame has slats, take care that the slats are no more than 3 inches apart to prevent your mattress from dipping in between the slats and losing support.
The average memory foam mattress lasts around 7 to 8 years; with care, a high-quality memory foam bed can last 10 or more years. You can extend its lifespan by rotating it every three months and by cleaning your mattress frequently. To keep your mattress clean, change its bedding and vacuum it once a week. Clean it thoroughly every few months.
Did We Help?
A memory foam mattress might be the best mattress to relieve your back pain, particularly if your back pain is chronic. Look for a mattress with a firmness level that matches your preferred sleeping position, as the wrong firmness can misalign your spine. Remember to speak with your doctor if your back pain continues or worsens, or if you develop other symptoms such as a fever or bladder difficulties.
This article is for informational purposes and should not replace advice from your doctor or other medical professional.