Which Mattress Is Best for Back Pain?

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Which Mattress Is Best for Back Pain?

People who suffer from back pain can often trace the root of their problems to a bad mattress. Old mattresses can develop sagging areas that fail to support the spine correctly. A new mattress can mean a world of difference and a good night's rest to someone who has trouble sleeping because of back pain. However, there are so many mattress types available that a shopper may not know where to start. There are several different kinds of coil mattresses and several kinds of foam core mattresses, not to mention all the variations of waterbeds and air mattresses. Moreover, almost all mattress manufacturers claim to support the spine and eliminate back pain, so it can be difficult to cut through the marketing hype and find a solution for one's health.

The truth is that the "right" mattress is different for each person, depending on each person's body type and sleeping habits. Before shopping for mattresses, a people with chronic back pain problems should know about the different mattress types and the technologies behind them. This way, they can make informed choices about a piece of furniture that will contribute significantly to their comfort and rest for years to come. This guide includes information on different mattress types as well as tips on how and where to shop for a new mattress.

Mattress Types

Considering how important good sleep is to overall health, a mattress should be the first thing to check when one starts to suffer from back or neck problems. However, because of the cost of a new mattress, it is sometimes the last thing to be replaced. An old mattress can cause serious damage to the spine, resulting in medical bills that far exceed the cost of a new mattress. Moreover, new mattress technologies offer much greater durability and comfort than the spring mattresses of the past. Here are the five basic kinds of mattress technologies in use today.

Innerspring Mattresses

Old innerspring mattresses had metal coils covered with some padding and upholstery. As time went on, the coils lost their elasticity or broke completely, causing the mattress to sag. These problems were addressed by manufacturers, and there are now four types of innerspring or coil mattresses, each with its own pros and cons. It should be noted that the number of coils has less importance than it used to. It is more important to look at the gauge of the wire used, the type of coils, and the materials used in conjunction with the number of coils. For example, a mattress with fewer coils and thicker wire (a lower gauge) can provide just as much support as one with more coils at a higher gauge.

Open Coil Mattresses

Open coil or Bonnell coil mattresses were the first spring mattresses to be invented. They have hourglass-shaped coils which are connected to each other with more wires that distribute weight evenly. Due to better materials, like tempered steel, these mattresses last longer and are more comfortable than older open coil mattresses. However, they are still the most prone to wear and must be replaced when they start to sag.

Offset Coil Mattresses

Offset coils are very similar to open coils except that they are shaped a little differently. They have a squarish head, designed to contour better with the padding and oval-shaped coils that are supposed to last longer than the circular coils of the open coil mattress. These can be considerably more expensive than open coil mattresses.

Pocket Coil Mattresses

Pocket coils, also called wrapped coils or Marshall coils, are individually wrapped in fabric and do not share their load with neighboring coils. This means that movement is not felt over the whole mattress. However, for the same reason, they may not provide enough support for heavier builds. Due to the complexity of their construction, pocket coil mattresses can demand a premium price.

Continuous Coil Mattresses

Instead of hundreds of separate springs that are connected with other wires, a continuous coil mattress has long rows of coils connected to innersprings. This construction distributes weight the most evenly. Continuous coil mattresses with low coil counts can provide as much support as other mattresses with higher coil counts.

Memory Foam Mattresses

Memory foam mattresses became popular in the 1990s. The material was actually developed in the 1970s by NASA to help astronauts deal with G-forces during take-off. The material in their seats needed to allow their bodies to sink in slightly while returning to a normal shape afterwards. This is exactly what the average person needs in a mattress. Mattresses that are too stiff or firm do not allow the curves of the body to sink in, causing a curvature in the spine that can lead to back pain. Mattresses that are too soft allow the body to "hammock" or sag, also causing an unnatural curvature of the spine. The perfect mattress material contours to the curves of each body, allowing the spine to remain straight.

Memory foam comes in various densities, measured in pounds per cubic foot. Low-density memory foam usually has a density of fewer than 4 lbs per cubic foot. These mattresses are pressure sensitive. They mold quickly to a body and spring back quickly. High-density memory foam is considered of a higher quality and takes a few minutes to mold to the shape of the body. However, since it does this by reacting to body heat, one criticism of memory foam mattresses is that they can be uncomfortably warm.

Latex Foam Mattresses

Latex foam mattresses go as far back as the 1930s. The first models were made with real rubber, but due to shortages of rubber, synthetic latex foam was soon produced. Today, both all-natural and synthetic latex foam mattresses can be found. The natural rubber variety is valued by those looking for an eco-friendly mattress that does not emit toxic gases. Also, latex rubber is naturally anti-bacterial, hypo-allergenic, and does not permit dust mite infestations. These are important factors for those with allergies.

As far as alleviating back pain, latex foam is a lot like memory foam. Both kinds of foam alleviate pressure points on the body that cause discomfort. However, they do this in two different ways. Memory foam cradles the body and is slower to spring back. Latex foam is more springy, giving the sleeper a buoyant feeling. The choice between memory foam and latex foam is a personal choice as some people prefer memory foam and others prefer latex. Both types have an established history of alleviating back pain.

Waterbed Mattresses

Waterbeds date back to the late 1800s and became popular in the 1970s and 1980s, but today's waterbeds are a far cry from the bouncy unstable mattresses that were sold 20 years ago. Waterbeds today can be hard-sided or soft-sided. Hard-sided waterbeds support the sides and bottom of a waterbed mattress with a wooden frame. A stand-up liner protects against spills in case of a puncture. Soft-sided waterbed mattresses have water-filled chambers surrounded by a foam and fabric casing. Freeflow waterbeds are much like older waterbeds from the past century, but the latest waterbed mattresses are "waveless." This means that the water inside is channeled into small spaces, preventing the mattress from rocking when weight is applied to one side. One major advantage to waterbeds is that they can be safely heated. Waterbed conditioners are sold to keep bacteria and algae from growing in the water and also to keep the inside lining supple and flexible.

Air Mattresses

Air mattresses have traditionally been used as an affordable camping or guest room bedding option. These mattresses are very simply constructed and designed to deflate and fold compactly when not in use. A permanent high-quality air mattress, on the other hand, looks almost exactly like a normal mattress. The difference lies in the air chambers on the inside of the mattress, which can be inflated to the desired level with the use of a remote control. These air beds or air chamber mattresses, as they are sometimes called, are often used in hospitals or other places where alleviating pressure points and maintaining good circulation of the blood are crucial. Air mattresses distribute weight a little differently from foam or coil mattresses, making them a good choice for back pain sufferers, especially when all else has failed. They often come with dual air chambers, so each person can set his or her desired firmness individually. Such mattresses are also known as adjustable firmness mattresses.

Choosing the Right Mattress for Back Pain

The table below summarizes the pros and cons of the different kinds of mattresses discussed above.

Mattress Type



Open coil


Not as durable as other kinds of innersprings

Offset coil

More durable, contour better to the body

More expensive

Pocket coil

Provide good support for side sleepers, good for people with partners who toss and turn regularly

Will wear out sooner with heavier weights because the coils do not share loads

Continuous coil

Distribute weight evenly and maintain mattress shape longest

Movement is felt across the whole bed

Memory Foam

Cradles body

Retains heat

Latex Foam

Hypo-allergenic, eco-friendly, buoyant feel

Some kinds of latex foam are low-quality


Can be heated

Freeflow waterbeds have a slight rock to them


Adjustable firmness by remote control


As this table shows, each kind of mattress has an advantage over the other types, whether one's priority is price, durability, or comfort. All of them have characteristics that help alleviate back pain, as long as the materials are of high quality.

How to Buy a Mattress

Mattresses can be bought at department stores, mattress and furniture showrooms, as well as online. Regardless of where the mattress will be purchased, it is important to get a feel for the mattress at a showroom. Here are some mattress shopping tips.

Testing a Mattress

Most shoppers test mattresses by pushing down on them once or twice with the palm of the hand. While this gives some indication of firmness, it does not tell the shopper exactly how the mattress will feel when one is lying down. Mattress showrooms are purposely designed to allow a shopper to try out the mattress by lying down on it. With some kinds of mattresses, especially the memory foam variety, it is necessary to lie on the mattress for several minutes as the mattress heats up and molds to the shape of the body. Those who sleep on their sides should lie on their sides to see how the mattress responds. Any pressure points created by a bad mattress will only become apparent after 5 to 10 minutes.

Mattress Trial Period and Guarantees

A reputable mattress seller will always offer a trial period of 60 to 90 days during which the buyer can decide if the mattress feels right. Make sure of this when shopping and also check the return policy to make sure a refund (and not just store credit) will be given if there are any problems. This applies to both brick-and-mortar stores as well as online dealers.

Mattress Pads and Toppers for Affordable Back Pain Relief

If the price of an orthopedic mattress is out of reach, there is still hope for those with back pain. Mattress pads and toppers with memory foam or other high-quality materials can cover a more affordable mattress (like an open coil innerspring mattress) and provide many of the same benefits as a memory foam mattress.

How to Buy a Mattress on eBay

Buying a mattress online is a popular option, despite the necessity of trying out the mattress at a showroom or other location. This is because the savings and discounts found online often make it worthwhile for shoppers to buy online even after visiting brick-and-mortar stores. Online reviews are also a good way to get an idea of the quality of a mattress, and in general, reputable brands like Serta and Sealy can be relied upon as far as quality.

However, not all online sources are secure, and it is often difficult to determine if the seller is a reputable dealer or not. eBay addresses these problems. Every seller on eBay has a public feedback history that can and should be checked by buyers before they enter into a transaction. This means that unprofessional sellers are quickly identified and removed from the eBay community.

To find mattresses on eBay, start at eBay ' s home page and search for the kind of mattress you want. Mattresses are located under the Home & Garden category Furniture and not Bedding, as you might assume. However, the category Bedding contains mattress pads, pillows, and other items that might be useful for orthopedic purposes. If you want to browse through the mattresses on eBay, enter the subcategory Mattresses. Within this category, you can refine your search by brand, mattress type, size, price, and even comfort level. These options make it easy to find a mattress that meets your needs as well as your budget.


Since close to eight hours of every day are spent in bed, it is not surprising that bad mattresses are the root cause of many cases of chronic back pain. By replacing an old, sagging mattress, one can find immediate relief from many sleep problems. Mattresses that are too soft as well as those that are too firm cause unnatural curvature of the spine, leading to pain in the back and neck. Advances in modern mattress construction have led to various materials that address these issues and aim at providing the perfect level of softness. These include various types of spring mattresses, two kinds of foam mattresses, as well as airbeds and waterbeds. While there is no one mattress type that will fix all back problems, a shopper looking for orthopedic relief can definitely find it by exploring these alternatives. Some mattresses, like the adjustable firmness air chamber mattress, allow partners to set different firmness levels on each side of the bed. Solutions like this one ensure that everyone can enjoy a good night's rest, regardless of their body type or sleeping position.

Mattresses can be tried out and bought at a variety of locations. By following the suggestions given in this guide about properly testing a mattress and buying one securely from a reputable seller, chronic back pain sufferers can soon be enjoying all the health benefits of deep and uninterrupted sleep.

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