Mattress-related back pain.
September 8, 2011 11:42 AM   Subscribe

What are your mattress hacks for back pain?

I bought this futon mattress and have been sleeping on it for about two weeks. It's in this type of futon frame. I loved it at first, but am now having lower back pain. I've had mattress-related back pain before, so am sure that the new mattress is the cause. Will a memory foam topper or some other add-on help, or should I bite the bullet and buy a traditional mattress and box spring?
posted by Wordwoman to Health & Fitness (20 answers total) 10 users marked this as a favorite
Neither -- go with a memory foam mattress. The firmer, the better. I too have this trouble and it's a damn godsend.

You don't even need the Tempur-pedic stuff -- Ikea even makes memory foam mattresses now, that are fairly affordable (insofar as mattresses go). You may even be able to find some weird quasi-industrial place that sells it wholesale if you live in an urban area (I do, and got mine for 200 bucks).
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 11:48 AM on September 8, 2011

Is to too hard or too soft? If it's too hard, a 3" memory foam topper might just do the trick. If it's too soft, you'll have to buy a different mattress.

There's a misconception that a hard mattress is better for your back, but in reality, medium-firm tends to be the sweet spot.
posted by moira at 11:51 AM on September 8, 2011

Too soft.
posted by Wordwoman at 11:52 AM on September 8, 2011

There's a misconception that a hard mattress is better for your back, but in reality, medium-firm tends to be the sweet spot.

That may depend on the individual back. I found medium-firm to be too soft for me.

Wordwoman, don't be afraid to lie down on things in the store and try 'em out if it's possible. You feel a little silly, but it's the best way to know.
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 11:54 AM on September 8, 2011

A bed-board. A sheet of plywood under the futon mattress will do the trick, too. This is what works for me, but I sleep on a mattress-and-boxspring combo. Not sure how this would play out on a futon.
posted by Guy_Inamonkeysuit at 11:57 AM on September 8, 2011 [5 favorites]

If it's not going to break the bank (and even if it is going to break the bank a little) I'd get a new mattress. I slept on a too-soft futon for years, had all sorts of back pain switched to a nice, firm -- not rock hard, mind you, just firm mattress -- and now I have less back pain.

On preview, seconding EC: definitely try the sucker out before taking it home. Not just on your back, either: either side, stomach, etc. Buying a matress without rolling around in it a bit like like buying clothes without trying them on.
posted by griphus at 11:58 AM on September 8, 2011

If you're a side or stomach sleeper, a body pillow is a really cheap hack. They improve my comfort on just about any mattress.
posted by slow graffiti at 12:07 PM on September 8, 2011

It is likely cost prohibitive, but Sleep Number beds are seriously great for this; if you go inquire about them, they will give you a demo and sales pitch, but it's pretty persuasive. I had some lower back pain that I privately suspected was because my butt is so big and my lower back so arched (kind of ridiculous feminine figure) that my lower back wasn't even *on* the mattress, and in the demo they map all the pressure points and sure enough, I was right. Then they help you determine how soft you need it (they start at max firmness).

I would recommend doing the demo even if you don't get a mattress there, just to see the pressure map and feel what the ideal firmness is for you. Then you can get an idea of what kind of mattress pad to buy or whether you need to do something else or what (btw, they do sell just mattress pads there, which I didn't know, and a variety of great pillows I plan to buy soon-ish, but there are plenty of alternatives out there if you find it too costly; they also run 40 to 50% off sales a lot, which I found out when I signed up for their e-mail list).
posted by Nattie at 12:19 PM on September 8, 2011 [2 favorites]

2 points.

First, consider whether there might be anything else in your life which might be leading you to have back pain. Are you sitting at a desk for too many hours, is your work station properly set up? (Right chair, screen at the proper height, etc) Is there any exercise that you do that might irritate your back?

Secondly, consider retraining yourself to sleep on your side in a slightly foetal position (ie with your legs pulled up). This will protect your back from movement or from getting into damaging positions in your sleep. If you decide to do this, then a pillow tucked in front or behind you (or both) can help you start to sleep in this position.
posted by biffa at 12:27 PM on September 8, 2011

Building on what biffa wrote...

I woke up with lower back pain for some 20 odd years, going through countless types of mattresses trying to find THE ONE that would work.

Turns out I have advanced arthritis in my lower spine. Doc sent me to PT, PT had me build up my core muscles, and voila! No more morning back pain.

I'm not saying you have arthritis, but perhaps doing some quick daily core exercises might help?
posted by Zoyashka at 12:38 PM on September 8, 2011 [1 favorite]

When my lower back is giving me trouble, I put a pillow behind my knees to keep my back muscles elongated.
posted by blurker at 1:15 PM on September 8, 2011

I think this really depends on your back. I know people with pretty severe back issues who need a super soft mattress. Others needs something as firm as possible.

I would try to rule out other sources of the pain and also sleep on as many styles as possible before investing in a new mattress.
posted by seesom at 1:17 PM on September 8, 2011

I have a foam memory/gel mattress topper from costco....its fucking awesome! I still have insomnia problems, but I sleep much better, less awakening during the night, and overall greater comfort.
posted by handbanana at 1:18 PM on September 8, 2011

"Wordwoman, don't be afraid to lie down on things in the store and try 'em out if it's possible. You feel a little silly, but it's the best way to know."

For 20 minutes. Take a book. People do it, it isn't weird, and that's why a lot of floor models have that protective fabric where you shoes go.
posted by Eyebrows McGee at 1:46 PM on September 8, 2011 [1 favorite]

If you can, try putting a large piece of plywood across that frame. I had problems with the metal support bars (which run down the middle of the mattress, the long way) causing me to roll to one side or another.

You can't use it as a couch with the board over top the "unfolded" futon, but it saved my back. Eventually, a friend gave me their cast-off wooden futon which had much tighter slats and not such a division in the middle. I slept well on it.
posted by fake at 1:47 PM on September 8, 2011

FWIW I blamed my mattress for lots of neck and shoulder pain that was eventually resolved by using a different pillow. I was *that close* to splurging on the expensive memory foam mattress. The pillow was a lot cheaper.
posted by probably not that Karen Blair at 2:35 PM on September 8, 2011 [1 favorite]

I've owned the tempurpedic deluxe mattress for about five years now. I've had 2 back surgeries and although I'm still relatively young, sleeping always caused my lower back to hurt in the morning. Tempurpedic changed my life. I'd say about 95% of the time I wake up pain free. The mattress is amazing. That being said I would definitely advise to test it out as much as you can before you buy. There are many models of tempurpedic from more on the firm feel to softer feel. So you have to decide what is best. Also, usually if you're not satisfied with the bed you can return it during a certain period of time. Tempurpedic is something you either love or hate. So it's all a matter of taste. It's a very expensive bed, but for me it was worth every penny.
posted by ljs30 at 5:19 PM on September 8, 2011

Ugh--I've slept on that type on futon before and it's horrible in my opinion. I use the most basic platform bed from Ikea (no boxspring, wooden slats) and it's the most comfortable I've ever slept on. Don't spring for the fancy slats as they tend to pop out of place far easier than the simple one I linked. Good luck!
posted by jilliank at 10:17 PM on September 8, 2011

My husband had ongoing back pain from (we thought) our mattress. A small lumbar pillow helped a lot, but what helped more was building up his core strength. Turns out an old workout injury had caused underdeveloped back muscles that he compensated for with the ones around them.

One of the best movements that helped was performing glute bridges (example). It was super hard at first - he could only get a couple and they were painful - but he almost immediately improved and hasn't had problems since.
posted by bookdragoness at 5:40 AM on September 9, 2011

Nthing guy_inamonkeysuit's suggestion of a bed board. These made such a difference during 5+ years of dorm/grad student housing beds.

Good luck!
posted by brackish.line at 8:43 AM on September 9, 2011

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