What kind of mattress is good for back pain?

Man sits on the edge of his bed and holds his back in discomfort
(Image credit: Getty)

Persistent back pain can majorly disrupt your day-to-day life. If you're suffering, it's worth making sure your mattress isn't exacerbating the problem – or even causing it. We consulted medical professionals for their their advice on the matter, as well as their tips for finding the best mattress for back pain

What kind of mattress helps avoid back pain?

"The best type of mattress depends on the person’s size, shape, and sleeping preference," says Dr. Kevin Lees, a former chiropractor in-clinic with over 20 years of experience, currently working at The Joint Chiropractic.

A general rule is that there shouldn't be a gap at any point between your body and the mattress, so your body is fully supported (a memory foam mattress can be a good choice for this, as it'll meld to your exact shape). According to Dr. Lees, you also want your mattress to hold you in a natural position, without causing you to twist or bend.  

When shopping for a mattress, you'll want to consider the sleeping position you drop off in. If you're a combination sleeper who switches positions throughout the night, shop according to your dominant sleep style.

Dr. Lees offers the following advice for choosing the best mattress for your sleep style:

Side sleepers

If you predominantly lie on your side, you should seek a medium or semi-firm mattress to help relieve pressure points along the hips and shoulders, according to Dr. Lees. A mattress that's too firm will create pain in those areas, causing sleepers to toss and turn.

Back sleepers

Back sleepers can opt for a firmer mattress to stabilize and support their hips and lower lumbar. "If the mattress is too soft, the hips and pelvis may sink, holding the person into a 'v' or 'c' shape," says Dr. Lees, "This may lead to lower back pain, neck stiffness, or aggravate a current condition." 

Stomach sleepers

If you usually lie on your stomach, you will also want to go with a firmer mattress to keep your hips and pelvis aligned. However, this sleep position is not recommended for anyone with back pain. "Sleeping on your stomach with your head turned to one side puts extra stress on your neck, back, and pelvis," says Dr. Grant Radermacher, owner of Ascent Chiropractic. If you usually lie on your stomach, try to train yourself to lie on your back, instead, as this will offer better distribution of your body weight, as well as aligning your spine and pelvis in a more natural way.

Man asleep on his side in bed

(Image credit: Getty)

Bear in mind, too, that your weight and build will also influence how firm or soft you need your mattress to be. "Someone who is very large may feel a medium mattress is too soft to sleep on their side, and a petite person may not cause a firm mattress to give much at all," says Dr. Lees. There are also some more things to check for if you're not sure if it's your mattress that's causing your back pain or not. 

You won't truly get a feel for a mattress until you sleep on it. Fortunately, mattress trials have become a standard practice among top mattress brands. These at-home trials last anywhere from 100 nights to a full year – which is well beyond the three weeks it usually takes for a body to adjust to a new mattress.

Alison Barretta

Alison is a freelance writer and editor from Philadelphia, USA. She is an expert mattress tester and sleep product reviewer, and has been sharing trusted buying advice and retail news for over a decade. When she isn't reviewing mattresses or hunting for deals, Alison can be found teaching/training in martial arts, fawning over skincare, and indulging in her quarantine-borne hobby: cooking.