Back or Neck Pain? Your Mattress Matters
You spend one-third of your life in bed. Learn how to support your neck and back with the right mattress and pillow.

Pillow top. Memory foam. Hybrid. If you’re on the hunt for a new mattress, you’ve probably come across some of these industry buzzwords. With a variety of mattresses to choose from, it may be a bit overwhelming when it comes time to buy, especially if you have back or neck pain.

Research shows that a proper mattress and pillow can make a big difference in relieving back and neck pain. If you already have back or neck problems, the proper mattress is a must. A good night’s rest is extremely important to your health in many ways, and the right mattress can help calm back problems by relieving pressure on joints, muscles and vertebrae.

A good mattress should gently support your whole body and keep your spine in a neutral position, no matter what position you sleep in or how often you move during the night. However you get your ZZZs, it will pay to be picky when investing in a mattress.

“It’s important to take your time and try more than one mattress before you buy,” says Rachel Sweatman, DPT, a physical therapist at Texas Health Allen. “I always suggest to patients, whether they have pain or not, that they lie down in their preferred sleeping position and actually rest for several minutes. This will be a good guide to the comfort and support the mattress will provide for the body. Since the average person spends one-third of their life sleeping, proper head, neck and back support is critical.”

“About 80 percent of the patients I see come to me with back or neck pain. When they complain of waking up achy from an improper mattress, they can have increased pain throughout the day that makes it hard for them to do routine tasks. When they can’t get comfortable in bed and stay asleep, their normal sleep cycle can be affected as well — diminishing alertness during the day,” she adds.

Sweatman points out that there is no one specific mattress that helps with all back pain. Each person is unique in their need for support based on their specific back condition. She references a study conducted by Sleep Health that found a medium-firm mattress that is custom self-adjusted to be optimal for promoting sleep comfort, quality and spinal alignment.

“A firmer mattress that caters to the natural curves of your back and neck will typically provide for better spine stability,” she says. “The good news is that there are many different types of mattresses these days from which to choose.”

For her patients with morning back pain, Sweatman says she recommends the log roll technique for getting out of bed.

Log Roll Technique: While lying flat on your back, bend and keep knees together and roll to one side all in one motion without twisting the spine. Push up with your arm and other hand, and gently let your legs fall over the side of the bed into a seated position. From here, you may gently move to a standing position.

Tips for a Better Night of Sleep

  • When shopping for a new mattress, lie down in various positions to see how it feels.
  • Invest in a good mattress and pillow that supports the spine and head and feels comfortable to you. In some cases, a person may benefit from more than one pillow.
  • Sleep on your back or on your side for more spine support. The stomach position is generally not recommended, as it does not allow for a neutral spine and can increase stress on the back.
  • If you sleep on your side, place a pillow between your knees to reduce rotation of the lower back.
  • When sleeping on your side, keep your legs bent at the knees and hips, a position which reduces stress on the lower back. A pillow under the uppermost arm can be helpful as well for support of the shoulder, neck and upper back.

A mattress that helps you get restful sleep and reduces pain or stiffness is the best choice. If back or neck pain persists even with a mattress modification, it’s probably time to visit with a spine specialist.

“The most important thing is to really invest the time to find the right mattress for you. Go to a reputable mattress source, research and test some of the choices, and ask a lot of questions. Finding the right mattress is so important. It’s something you will likely have for a long time, and it needs to provide you with quality sleep,” Sweatman says.

Take the Back Health Assessment to measure your back pain or visit YourBackHealth.com for more information.

Ready to schedule an appointment? Find a back and spine specialist on the medical staff near you.

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