With so many options to consider, finding the best mattress can often feel tricky. From sturdy innerspring pieces to soft foam, learning how to buy a mattress is a long process. Though your choice is one that will (hopefully) last for years – so it’s important that your back is as supported as your sleeping habits.  Here, experts discuss why your mattress may be causing back problems – and how to avoid pain where possible.  

Why your mattress may be causing back problems

‘While back pain can be caused (or exacerbated) by any number of factors (such as aging or an inactive lifestyle), inadequate support from a mattress – that reinforces poor sleeping positions strains muscles and does not help keep the spine in alignment – can also contribute to back pain,’ says Christina Heiser, a senior content manager for Saatva (opens in new tab). But what are the warning signals that you need to look out for? Christina explains that ‘big dips or impressions in the mattress are ‘clear signs that the mattress is breaking down’ and may not be giving you the support your back needs. She also suggests inspecting the mattress for rips, lumps, or springs that may be seeping through, as these indicate it’s time to make a new investment.  ‘A sagging mattress can cause back pain by throwing your spine out of alignment. For pain-free nights, the goal is to keep your spine in a neutral position,’ the expert says. ‘If your mattress allows your spine to curve up or down, that’s not healthy for blood circulation or resting your muscles.’ Published sleep researcher and CEO of Rise Science Jeff Kahn (opens in new tab) agrees. He adds that your mattress may also cause back pain when it does not allow you to keep a neutral spine position while you sleep. ‘One way to do this is with an adjustable bed or with a mattress that’s firmer and softer in different areas, as that reduces pressure points while side sleeping,’ he adds. 

Which mattress is best for preventing back pain?

The best mattress for your back is entirely personal. Each body has its own needs – both in terms of sleeping better and preventing back pain, so it’s a good idea to research and test before you make a long-term decision. However, sleep researcher Jeff Kahn explains that a medium-firm mattress may be the best place to begin your search.  ‘The consensus is [that] a medium-firm mattress is the best for those who have back pain or to mitigate back pain,’ he says.’  One study (opens in new tab) found medium-firm mattresses reduced back pain by about 48% and improved perceived sleep quality by 55% – and this was felt after just one week of switching mattresses and improved from there.’ If you can’t get a new mattress, Jeff adds that choosing one of the best mattress toppers will also offer more support while sleeping. ‘And don’t forget your pillow, either. Opt for one that keeps your neck straight to avoid neck pain, he adds.

How can I stop my mattress from hurting my back?

Choosing a new mattress that encourages your spine to align correctly is one of the most effective ways to prevent back pain. However, CEO of Rise Science and sleep researcher Jeff Kahn, adds that your sleep position matters as well.  ‘Those with lower back pain should consider sleeping on their side, with their knees bent, and a pillow between their legs,’ he suggests. ‘Sleeping on your back with back pain is not recommended, but if you can’t get comfortable any other way, use a thin pillow under your hips to keep your spine supported.’