Watch CBS News

Best Mattresses For Back Pain

Few things in life compare to the delicious, simple pleasure of getting a good night's sleep. When body and brain are rested, we not only feel better but remain healthier. Of course, multiple factors affect this elusive delight. Key among them is your mattress, particularly if you suffer from back pain.

A mattress can help or hurt an already-nagging back, as well as be the root cause of that oh-so-familiar ache. The rule of thumb used to be that firm is all you need, but one trip to the mattress store can leave you mind-boggled about all of the choices available. And to make matters worse, experts no longer agree on even that simple claim. If your mattress is a really, really old friend, or you're waking up every day with nagging back pain or discomfort, it may be time to make your quality of sleep a priority and follow these simple steps to a better night's rest.

Remain neutral – Look for a mattress that supports your body to rest in a neutral position, with your back comfortably supported. The mattress should conform to your spine's natural curve, allowing your upper body and head to be properly aligned and your lower body supported. If the mattress is too soft or droopy, your body will sag, causing back and shoulder aches. If you go too firm, your body's natural pressure points may become compressed, resulting in an aching lower back.

Don't break the bank – These days, mattresses can cost practically as much as condos, but don't assume cost equals quality. While it's true that too-cheap mattresses generally reflect poor workmanship and lack longevity, you don't have to spend a mint to get a great mattress. Shop for comfort instead of label, based on your own personal preferences, but keep in mind that for back pain complaints, medium-firm mattresses seem to do the trick best.

Drop until you shop – The best way to determine the best mattress for you is to lie down on every kind you can find and decide which one feels best. Take 20 minutes or so on each mattress, in the position you typically sleep in. If you can't decide, come back on another day and re-try your front-runners. It's not a bad idea to bring your pillow along, so as to best simulate your real-time sleeping environment. Mattresses to try include:

  • Innerspring A very popular type of mattress, innersprings support your body with individually enclosed coils covered by materials such as latex or cotton. The optimum number of coils is around 390. If you go less than that, your mattress may not give your back the support it needs, but more than that and you're probably wasting your money, despite what the salesperson says.
  • Memory Foam – Comprised of multiple layers of foam, these mattresses readily conform to your body shape, eliminating pressure and pain.
  • Latex – Latex mattresses may be synthetic or green and are known for their firm, back-loving support.
  • Air Mattresses – High-end air mattresses, unlike their blow-up counterparts, utilize air-filled chambers in the same way that innerspring mattresses use coils. They are adjustable so as to readily alleviate pressure on aching backs and are often used in hospitals for spinal cord injury patients.

Even a mattress with a 20-year guarantee will start to show its age after around eight years, so it makes sense to budget in a new buy just about once per decade. Of course, don't wait that long to deal with an achy back. If your new mattress doesn't do the trick, seek out advice from a doctor, chiropractor or physical therapist. You can always get a new mattress, but you only get one back.

Corey Whelan is a freelance writer in New York. Her work can be found at

View CBS News In
CBS News App Open
Chrome Safari Continue
Be the first to know
Get browser notifications for breaking news, live events, and exclusive reporting.