Mattress Suggestions for Back Pain
September 16, 2016 8:40 AM   Subscribe

Mattress suggestions for mid-and-lower back pain?

First off - I've read several other questions regarding mattress suggestions, but am hoping for some personalized suggestions based on my current situation.

Here's the deal: just about every day I wake up with back pain. Pretty sure it's (mostly) due to my mattress. I think it's not firm enough. Here's the mattress I have: The product page says medium-firm, but I think the comfort foam layer on top is actually too squishy and not providing enough support?

Recently, we had some guests and we let them use our bed and we slept on our air mattress (this one: Lo and behold, my back felt great! Unfortunately, an air mattress on the ground is not a long term solution. (Also, I'm decidedly not into a super fancy $1-$2k adjustable air mattress.)

My questions:

1) Can you suggest a mattress that helped you with your back pain?
2) Am I right to think that the top "comfort" layer on my current mattress is actually too squishy and that's what's causing my pain?
3) Is the air mattress thing a red herring, or is there anything I can learn from that experience in terms of what mattress might work for me?
4) How do I make sure I don't make the same mistake of buying a new mattress, only to find out a few weeks in that it actually causes me pain?

I am a back and side sleeper, if that helps.
posted by too bad you're not me to Health & Fitness (22 answers total) 9 users marked this as a favorite
I have mid and lower back pain and when we moved and needed to buy a new bed we literally bought literally the hardest, firmest mattress at Sleepy's and it has been the best decision I've ever made. There was a short adjustment period but my wife says she sleeps better on it than our softer one and she generally doesn't even have back pain. I can't imagine that comfort layer is helping if you need a firm mattress, I definitely didn't feel comfortable on it.

How do I make sure I don't make the same mistake of buying a new mattress, only to find out a few weeks in that it actually causes me pain?

I know Casper has a generous return policy and some people I know have had a good experience with them, so it might be worth a shot.
posted by griphus at 8:47 AM on September 16, 2016

We sleep on a fairly firm futon from IKEA - with innersprings. I find that does pretty well for my back stuff, especially with a thin pillow between my knees or under them depending on whether I'm on my side or back. And yeah I think the foam toppers can contribute to back pain.
posted by leslies at 8:48 AM on September 16, 2016

I got a Casper queen sized mattress and it is very firm and good for back pain so far. I sleep like you and have similar back pain. Having a firm mattress with some give (hence memory foam) is helpful for me, as was improving my core strength so I don't slump into an uncomfortable position unknowingly when I roll onto my back.

If you are in CA you can try Casper and return if it doesn't work for you.
posted by zdravo at 9:17 AM on September 16, 2016

Sadly, I have never bought a mattress in my life so can't recommend.

Two things help me with my back pain though.
a) I sleep on an un-inflated camping mattress on the floor. Basically anything that can be used as a cushion against the floor.
b) Exercise. Just stretching, or swimming, nothing high impact. This definitely is the biggest thing to manage my back.
posted by TrinsicWS at 9:21 AM on September 16, 2016

as a temporary solution, can you flip over the mattress and sleep on the side that doesn't have the squishy soft bit?

also sleepy's offers a 30 day return period but it only works if you buy their $100 mattress cover thingy to protect the mattress from your cooties.
posted by poffin boffin at 9:32 AM on September 16, 2016 [2 favorites]

That cover is extremely worth it by the way.
posted by griphus at 9:34 AM on September 16, 2016

Quick note: I am in CA so I don't have a Sleepy's nearby. :(
posted by too bad you're not me at 9:39 AM on September 16, 2016

TIL that sleepy's is not a national chain.
posted by poffin boffin at 9:40 AM on September 16, 2016 [1 favorite]

Oh my god - I could have written this question, even down to the sleeping one night on an air mattress and waking up for the first time in months pain free.
We even put the air mattress on top of our bed for a while because I mean I literally couldn't get out of bed in the mornings I was in so much pain. The air mattress thing is a REAL thing - I have no idea why but it was such a revelation to wake up from the best night's sleep I'd had in forever, on an air mattress.

We went to Simmons (I'm in Canada) and purchased the firmest, most supportive mattress they had, with no pillow top. I mean, our mattress is firm. It has helped significantly with my back pain and we rotate the mattress religiously every month.

I don't know the exact name of the mattress or anything like that, I just know that it is firm, has great support and continues to help my bad back. I have subsequently purchased a memory foam "topper" for our bed because rolling over at night was causing me pain, and this has also helped me a ton.

I know it's not in your question, but there are only 2 other things (Aside from the firm mattress) that have helped my back pain:
1 - Float Spas (popping up everywhere, I'm sure they'll be one near you somewhere)
2 - IMS physiotherapy (this is when the Physiotherapist uses dry needles, kind of like acupuncture, but the needles go into the muscles, create a spasm and release all the tension). The physio said my muscles were really tight and taught when I first walked in. I was skeptical about this treatment, but after 3 sessions I am practically pain free.

In my case, it's been a combination of all three of these things that have helped me big time, but you definitely need a more supportive mattress.

Good luck!
posted by JenThePro at 9:42 AM on September 16, 2016

Fellow back pain sufferer here. A new mattress will help, and if it's too firm, you can always get a separate topper.

But a few months ago (can't dig for the link now, sorry!), a new research report investigated the best kind of exercise for back pain. It found that any kind of exercise is good for back pain.

So, yes, get a good mattress. And help yourself even more with some yoga, walking, biking--any kind of activity. Bonus: you'll sleep better, too!
posted by bluedaisy at 9:50 AM on September 16, 2016 [1 favorite]

Last year, I got a Tuft and Needle mattress in large part to help with my lower back pain, and I LOVE IT. It's debatably the firmest of the new generation foam mattresses. There's juuuuuust enough give on top to keep my joints happy, but my hips and lower back feel marvelously supported. No deep sinking, much less pain. It's super affordable, and like the Casper, the return policy is aces. Definitely worth a shot.
posted by mostlymartha at 10:13 AM on September 16, 2016

I have lower back pain. We have a Leesa foam mattress. It's wonderful, but may not be firm enough. They have a 100 day guarantee, so you can try it out with very little risk.
posted by KevCed at 10:32 AM on September 16, 2016

Agreeing with those above who recommend a firm mattress. I've had back problems my whole life. I was in the middle of two years of constant misery when I went to Spain and slept on their rock hard beds for two weeks and was completely pain-free the entire time. It was a revelation. We came home and tossed our pillow-top and bought the firmest Tempurpedic on the market. I have had no problems at all in the three years hence. It makes a big difference.
posted by something something at 10:54 AM on September 16, 2016

I got a Leesa mattress and it has helped a lot. It's firm and supportive but also conforms to your body at the same time. I saw a mention upthread for a Casper, and that's probably similar.
posted by J. Wilson at 11:48 AM on September 16, 2016

The Casper, Leesa and these other direct order online companies all have approximately a 100 day free trial/return period, too.
posted by J. Wilson at 11:50 AM on September 16, 2016

When we visited my cousin in San Francisco, we stayed at his partner's apartment and slept in her bed. It was a memory foam mattress only available locally. I'd never slept in one before and it was some of the best sleeping ever. I've had two back surgeries and often deal with pain and discomfort, and I had absolutely none with this mattress. I'll find out the maker.
posted by Thorzdad at 3:19 PM on September 16, 2016

FYI, Loom and Leaf/Saatva has a generous no hassle return within 75 days. Saatva makes the Loom and Leaf mattress which is a $999 mattress package. Both are delivered to your home and installed at no additional cost. Loom and Leaf. I am about to pull the trigger on one soon.
posted by futz at 3:52 PM on September 16, 2016

Here's the mattress maker I mentioned.
posted by Thorzdad at 4:01 PM on September 16, 2016

I tried a Tuft & Needle earlier this year, and I don't recommend it. I think they changed their formula. Sleepopolis agrees. I went with a super firm model from Keetsa which has six different models. They have a few showrooms in California.

I also recommend going to physical therapy.
posted by hooray at 5:14 PM on September 16, 2016

This post sounds like me a month ago.

I had a traditional mattress that was too soft and sagging. I ended up going to Sleepopolis to read the reviews on Casper, Helix, and the Leesa mattresses. I ended up going with the Helix mattress because it was customizable and better for side sleepers who may be heavier than normal.

My back started feeling much better straight away and combined with physical therapy, I'm feeling great. It was weird to get used to at first because I wasn't used to such a firm mattress, but it's better than waking up in pain or having my arms or legs fall asleep while sleeping.

Helix also has a great return policy.
posted by msladygrey at 8:04 PM on September 16, 2016

I stopped waking up with back pain after I got a memory foam mattress topper from Costco. It made a huge difference to my sleep, too.

I bought a Tuft and Needle mattress that gave me terrible backache. They sent me a topper for free, but it didn't help, so I've gone back to my Costco topper on the T&N mattress and it's great.
posted by vickyverky at 4:38 AM on September 17, 2016

Thanks for all of the advice, folks! I was really going back and forth on this, but I decided to go with the Helix brand since it's customizable and still had the 100 night trial. Crossing my fingers this goes well. I'll try to remember to report back in a few weeks.
posted by too bad you're not me at 12:33 PM on September 17, 2016

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